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Saturday, April 27, 2013

LOVE. SCARS. NEW. GLORY


5th Sunday of Easter Year C
Apri 28, 2013

LOVE. SCARS. NEW. GLORY

I start with a word puzzle. Mysterious. Cryptic. Self-contradictory … Love. Scars. New. Glory.

Something new and something old; something that hurts and something that scars; something that wounds, but something that renews, and leads to the ultimate newness – glory with God ever ancient, ever new!

This is the theme of today’s readings, 5th Sunday of Easter.

It’s an old story … if you change your life drastically, for the better that is, there will be haters and naysayers, doubters and cheerers, people who will drag you down, and people who will prop you up. This is what happened to Paul and Barnabas. Paul was an old hat at persecuting the Church. He was one difficult guy who made it even more difficult for the early followers of the Lord. But something new and something great happened to him. He was renewed and changed by a mystical experience.

The dynamic duo, Paul and Barnabas had something new to deliver. And how! “They proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples.”

That was something new and something great from one who earlier was a pain in the neck of the Christian believers!

But something even newer and greater is the topic of the second reading – the vision of a new heaven and new earth! But wait … What happened before this? Wasn’t John the Evangelist talking about the old issue of persecution, the fact that the 144,000 had to be washed by the blood of the Lamb? Is this something that was merited and earned by hard work and with blood, sweat, and tears?

Yes … even Rod Stewart says it … “Love hurts. Love scars. Love wounds. And mars any heart.”

Just a little more than five weeks ago, we celebrated, we remembered, we relived the glorious saving Passion of the Lord. Wasn’t he wounded? Wasn’t he scarred? Wasn’t he marred by heartless unbelief and hatred from those who did not accept him?

Today is a Sunday not just of newness but also of glory – glory that shone through pain, hurts, scars, and wounds! This is the greatest story ever told – a story of Love, the same story that He now wants us to make our very own. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

I’d like to toss away modesty today. Yes … I admit … I, too, have suffered on account of love. I am no saint. I am no martyr. But I claim at least my desire to love God, and my feeble desire to do something good and beautiful for Him, too, in my own little way. I have been misunderstood. I have been condemned. I have been wounded, scarred, hurt.

But today, I’d like to tell you more. I grew on account of the scars. I was renewed on account of the pain, whether deserved or undeserved.

I hold on today to this promise of the Lord … “Behold, I make all things new.” I hold on, too, to his assurance: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”

The old order is now about to go away. But for this to happen, there is one thing we all need to do … “Love one another,” as Christ has loved us!

I can understand now a little more the mysterious puzzle … Do you get it too? LOVE. SCARS. NEW. GLORY.

I WILL PRAISE YOUR NAME FOR EVER, MY KING AND MY GOD!

Friday, April 19, 2013

ARE YOU ON SHUFFLE MODE?


4th Sunday of Easter Year C
Good Shepherd Sunday
April 21, 2013

ARE YOU ON SHUFFLE MODE?

Listening is a lost art in our smartphone-dominated times. Wanna bet? Even the world of journalism is filled with noise, not news … studies and surveys, not truth … statistics and projections, not hard-nosed focus on what matters … reality shows, but not passionate dedication and commitment to face actual reality.

Times there were when we excitedly spoke of “virtual reality.” It is ever present now …in your tablet, on your iPad, (or Haipads, for that matter!). But there is something more now … far more than just “virtual reality” – what is known now as “augmented reality.”

Both the “trendies” and the “traddies” are guilty of it … they both talk of something real with a twist … a little exaggeration here; a small addition there … a gentle innuendo here; a subtle sarcasm there … So what does one have in the end? A truth, but augmented, modified, twisted – if you will – or otherwise turned, not into a blatant lie, mind you, but just simply a half truth (which is almost always worse than a lie!)

Let us focus a bit on what and how we listen … Most of us now, are on shuffle mode. The music is on, but not quite. It is electronically on, but playing in the background. Life itself is on a virtual soundtrack. The music is really there behind, but not first thing on your mind. You only cock your ears, (figuratively, not literally) when one song or musical piece excites you. And then you  listen … or reach out for the button to activate “Tune Up” – and know for certain what you are right now listening to – with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul!

On other occasions, one is just on a veritable sound track. One hears, but not listens.

This is what most people do now in Church. One behaves on shuffle mode. One cocks his/her ears only when the priest “sings” his “songmily,” or speaks about something I hate (like  the Church’s teaching against abortion, for example), or something I don’t agree with (like the hard-nosed teaching against same-sex marriages, for example), or when he talks about what you already know (like the rehashing of the story line of your favorite telenovela or soap opera).

On shuffle mode, it is hard to listen and really listen to the Word of God … (It’s boring!). On shuffle mode, one simply presses the forward button to skip the hard teachings, or “tune out” and get back to texting or playing games … or simply going away and choosing another Church, another parish, another priest that does not disturb your delicate conscience!

The Jews on hearing Paul and Barnabas were on shuffle mode, too. They did not like what they saw, and neither did they like what they heard. The Gentiles, on the other hand, were smitten, and “glorified the Lord!”

Can you imagine if we all are always on shuffle mode, when it comes to hearing the Word? We won’t be God’s people. Neither shall we be His flock. But wait! This is just what we said: “We are his people, the sheep of his flock!”

There’s this group of people who really listened and suffered for it … “these are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

They heard. They listened. Heroically. Patiently. Not selectively, I might add. And they suffered through it and on account of it.

Shepherds are those who have a message to their flock. And their flocks listen to their shepherd. Truly. Fully. Not selectively. Not on shuffle mode, but consistently.
It pays to listen. For he said: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”

I hold on to one important track today and would like to repeat it over and over: “God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.”

Are you still on shuffle mode?

Friday, April 12, 2013

AM LOVIN' IT: BREAKFAST BY THE SHORE!


Third Sunday of Easter (Year C)
April 14, 2013

AM LOVIN’ IT: BREAKFAST BY THE SHORE

It’s one of those appearances of the Risen Lord that is sure to get you running for more … Why not? There’s free consultation for discouraged fishermen out on open water all night and catching nothing. They have been casting their net all night long presumably on only one side of the boat and the catch was simply elusive.

They say it is always darkest just before dawn. But when dawn came and the sun’s rays were just about ready to appear in the horizon, someone more than the sun, more dazzling than the sun’s rays, and greater than the sun itself appeared, with some advice: “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.”

They did haul in more than they could handle. But there was something else they were not prepared to handle with ease – the sight of the Risen Lord! However, the disciples who were too focused on the catching and on the catch itself were caught off-guard with the sudden realization of the youngest apostle that they had more than just unsolicited advice from some helpful guy. The young guy told the older guy: “It is the Lord!”

And that was when all the action began … with a commotion! Peter dove right into the water, not before putting on some decent clothes! The excitement was too much to carry, the joy of the unexpected vision of the Lord come from the dead, and the exhilaration brought about by an unexpected windfall from the haul of fish, too much to ignore. All hands were on deck to deal with the situation that had them all scampering for what to do. The disciples lost no time hauling the catch ashore. The head of the disciples lost no time in drawing near to the Lord whom he now recognized.

But if you think that being invited to a filet-o-fish, all-you-can-eat breakfast is a treat without equal, just wait till you hear what happens next. There on the shore, over free breakfast that anyone would surely love more than McDonald’s, the big test and the big commissioning took place.

It was a case of the Chairman of the Board calling the CEO to task, telling his right hand most trusted man what being witnesses to his dying and rising would be all about.

This is the point when the statement “Lab ko ‘to” (Am lovin’ it) becomes much more personal and pointed. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” But there was more than enough time to ask the question not once but thrice. This was no ordinary fact-finding query. This was a test of a lifetime, a test that had nothing to do with business-as-usual, and merely being a passive witness to something as mysterious as it is great. This was a test of commitment and personal dedication, not to an idea or concept, but to His person. “Do you love me more than these?” “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”

A free lunch or breakfast won’t send me running repeatedly to the donor, and running for a cause. A free meal would call me to gratefulness, but not to a commitment of allegiance to anyone. But a call to love coupled with a passing on of a task said repeatedly would send anyone raring to deliver and perform, not for merely a God-idea but for God Himself.

Miguel de Unamuno, I think it was, who said that anyone who claims to love God but feels no passion running through his veins is really in love only with the God-idea, and not with God Himself.

The Risen Lord is not a phantasm. He ate breakfast with them. The Risen Lord is not just an idea. He had concrete advice to tell them, to lower the nets on the right side of the boat. The Risen Lord is not just a pious thought. He asks Peter to do work for him … He tells him to tend and feed his sheep.

Last week, we reminded ourselves what loving the Risen Lord is all about. It was all about, not simply rolling away stones of unbelief and stones of indifference. It is all about living lives that are carried away by love for Him and passionate commitment to everything He stood for.

It is nice to be invited to breakfast by the shore. We sure are going to love it and we will keep on running for more. But Peter and the other disciples had more than just fish to run after … The sight of the Risen Lord had them hauling more than just fish from the Sea of Galilee.

Represented by Peter, who was told to feed the sheep, all of us who call ourselves followers and disciples and witnesses of the Risen Lord, can no longer simply love in the abstract. We need to get out of that breakfast meeting with the same passion to tend, care for, and feed the Lord’s sheep, while smelling very much like the sheep, as Pope Francis advises all who call themselves shepherds after the Lord’s heart.

In the meantime, merely saying “am lovin’ it” won’t suffice. We need to do two things: love the Lord above all, and do his bidding, and become the shepherd he wants us all to be – like Peter, like unto the Lord Himself, the Good Shepherd. Then, there’s more to being Christians than just giving away free filet-o-fish sandwiches by the seashore.

Friday, April 5, 2013

THAT HIS SHADOW MIGHT FALL ON US!


Second Sunday of Easter Year C
April 7, 2013

THAT HIS SHADOW MIGHT FALL ON US!

The night of March 13, I chose not to sleep. I decided to stay up and wait for the white smoke, as I had the hunch things would accelerate that night. Being seven hours ahead of Rome, it was time for bed. The white smoke came at more or less 2 AM. But when the shadow of the new Pope’s image fell on the whole world, brought by the miracle of mass communications and the internet in my case, going back to bed was out of the question. I was energized. I was excited. And I got a big boost to my faith as I saw the throngs at St. Peter’s square, show a groundswell of support for the new Bishop of Rome.

Today, the readings all show this same energy, the same excitement, a similar jolt that comes from the Risen Lord. “Signs and wonders” were what the apostles did, and “a large number of people” also gathered to experience the same. For his part, John, who witnessed the Risen Lord in a vision, was told to “write down” everything he had seen.

But although I got a little push to my faith that early morning of March 14, I must confess that, like Thomas the doubter, I, too, can pose obstacles to totally and readily believing the power of the Risen Lord to change the world. The disciples were cooped up in the upper room “for fear of the Jews.” But just as soon as they saw the Risen Lord, “the disciples rejoiced.”

All of them, except one, who played coy for he was too demanding to believe what others said. He insisted that believing without seeing was not exactly his cup of tea. He demanded not only to see, but also to touch … the wounds, the hands, the side.

There are many of us in the Church who are, well … like me … like Thomas … Some of us are too demanding. I will cooperate and do my share of evangelization only if the parish priest gets changed … I will give my contribution only if others do the same … I will say sorry provided the other guy does it first … I will do evangelization work just as soon as I am done sending my children to school … when I will have enough free time on my hands …

Matthew Kelly calls them “disengaged Catholics.” According to his findings, there are so few really “dynamic Catholics” in our parishes. Most of us are “fair-weather” Christians, who only come when we need something from the Lord, from the Church. Sometimes, those who are perceived as “active” parishioners are those who belong to clubs or groups who “lord it over others” and safeguard their own traditions and comfort zones. They seem actively involved, but not actually engaged in the work that God wants, but only the work they want.

Sometimes, like me, like Thomas, they are too demanding. They will choose to serve, only if they get their own domesticated pastor, who will do their every wish, or who would always be at their beck and call.

But there is hope for me, for you, and for everyone who may not fit the title “dynamic Catholics” as of yet. Like Thomas, who initially doubted, and who initially put demanding conditions before believing, but who in the end capitulated in faith, hope and love, we, too can change … from fear to excitement … from inactivity to dedicated and committed service … from acting out of one’s needs to acting on the basis of what the Church and others need.

This is simply called conversion. The frightened disciples did it. When the shadow of the Risen Lord fell on them, they got into rejoicing mode and went right down to evangelizing others and bringing them to the Christ.

In the first reading, people wished that at least the shadow of Peter might fall on them. It did, in my case, in the early dawn of March 14! When Pope Francis came out of the main loggia, and blessed the city and the world, it was like as if Peter’s shadow fell on my weak heart and even weaker faith, and gave me courage and strength and new hope.

May that shadow continue to fall on each and everyone of you. And should that happen anytime now, may our prayer be like that of the beaten doubter who saw for himself and uttered with love and faith: “My Lord and my God!”