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Friday, June 28, 2013

KILLING THE GOOSE; WORKING FOR REAL GOLD!

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13th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
June 30, 2013

KILLING THE GOOSE; WORKING FOR REAL GOLD!



It seems like we do have some hot-heads in the Bible … impulsive individuals who do things on the spur of the moment, and who resolve to execute the first thought that comes to mind. Well, sort of … There’s Elisha, for one … A bit on the rash side, he did not think twice about “killing the goose that layed the golden eggs.” No, I am being flippant here. He had no geese, but he had something a whole lot better. How about being a farmer and having all the animals of burden you wanted?



Well, Elisha was one such happy farmer who had the wherewithal to do his work with ease, for he had a beast of burden to help him plow one for every twelve months in a year! But he was crazy enough one day when he saw not just golden eggs, but what was equivalent to more than just gold and decided to pursue it. Stricken by Elijah the prophet’s vision for him, symbolized by the former’s act of “throwing his cloak over him,” Elisha ran after the prophet and said, “I will follow you.”



Paul was another case in point. He had a blooming intellectual career. He spoke Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and most probably Aramaic, too. He was no ordinary Jew … no, he was of Jewish stock, but was a Roman citizen, a cosmopolitan polyglot and budding intellectual in his own right. And on top of all this, he was a rabid persecutor of the Church founded by the hated Galilean, who was reported to have been executed by cruel crucifixion, but rumored to have risen from the dead! Stricken down on his way to Damascus, though blinded, he saw more, not less. In a vision, he saw him whom he was persecuting, who looked at him with compassion and love, and healed him from his spiritual bondage and pride.



But here’s the best part … James and John were loyal followers who had fiery tempers. The two disciples were a tad too protective of their Master. And they wouldn’t brook any opposition and unwelcome behavior. They had a way of matching attitude with corresponding attitude on their part. “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”



Oh my goodness! Elisha, Paul, James and John sure had gumption! Having been in leadership, too, in my life, who would not want such loyal followers? What general among us would not want such protective foot soldiers by his side all the time? The famous Uriah who obediently went to the front lines at the behest of King David (thanks to his scheming and lustful motives) was surely an asset to anyone, most of all, to the revered and beloved – and mind you – anointed leader!



So are we extolling the virtue here of impulsivity? Last time I checked, impulsivity was not a virtue at all, but a weakness of character. Well, Uriah had virtue. He obeyed with nary a whimper, even if he got more than just the shorter end of the stick in the end. But Elisha? Foolish, you might say! Indeed, what businessman in our midst would be happy to see capital flight first hand, with him and no one else as loser? What committed executive in out midst, complete with vision, mission and marching orders, would all of a sudden stop grab his parachute and bail out of the plane all because he now hears the beatings of a different drum?



Foolishness and something worse is all we could think of. OK, so they were all fools!



But that does not quite foot the bill entirely. For here, we are talking of some important journey. Elijah was on a journey towards the immediately undefinable. Paul was on a journey, too, alright, and he was the quintessential committed executive who rode headlong toward a fulfillment of an important self-imposed task. The journey was toward something eminently irrepressible! The Lord, too, was on his final journey “to Jerusalem.” His was a journey and a quest that was more than simply irrepressible.



I have been a priest for 30 years now, a teacher for 34, and a host of other things for as many years. Been there; done that … While I strive to be a follower of the Lord plain and simple, I cannot say that I have gotten anywhere near Elisha, Paul, and yes – not even like James and John who were willing to produce some sparks and fireworks when push comes to shove. Yes … like most everyone I know, I can be focused more on the golden eggs and miss both the goose and the truly and authentically, gold.



Today, the readings tell us something important. Never mind the goose … That is first in the agenda. But a close second is implied … Don’t work simply for the golden eggs. Look for the gold!



Elisha saw it, and killed his goose, all 12 oxen that he had and made a feast for his workers. Paul saw it and left a blooming, promising career as someone who was somebody in Roman and Jewish society. James and John, for their impusivity, were willing to lay down their lives for the Master.



At this point in my life, after the “been there; done that” syndrome, I realize, albeit belatedly, that there is something more important than the goose, and all the mythical gold it can bring us. I search more for the gold, for the golden rule of life and salvation that the Lord has given us. And that gold is a person who asks us to follow him.



Elisha, in the end, was no fool. Neither was Paul. They gave up all they had. For “no one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Friday, June 21, 2013

GRACE, IN WHATEVER FORM!

 
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
June 23, 2013


GRACE IN WHATEVER FORM!



Many years ago, the words used by Dietrich Bonhoeffer made a big dent in my mind. He talked about “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Before I proceed, let us get it straight from his mouth: “"cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance; baptism without church discipline; communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."



It is all too easy for all of us to look only for the former, and ignore the latter. Why not? It is nice to be comfortable and safely ensconced in our seats. It is hard to rock the boat and even  harder to suffer unnecessarily.



That is not what I gather from the readings today. The first reading from Zechariah speaks about the Lord “pouring out” “grace and petition” – something pleasant and unpleasant, something that would lead to gratitude and mourning at one and the same time … growth as much as purification; mourning in the heart and fervent petition from within.



I have personally been through tough times in my life. I have been through happy times, to be sure. It all comes in a package called the gift of life. Sometimes you’re up; sometimes you’re down. Now, it is cheap grace … (Thank you, Lord!); now it is costly grace … (My Lord, and my God, help me!)



But whether I am drenched to the bone, cold and chilling to the max, or high and dry and reveling under the warmth of the sun of people’s care and concern, I am led to the same prayer that we had after the first reading: “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God!”



God’s people had its share of grief and mourning. Today Zechariah prophesies more of such. St. Paul says as much, reminding the Galatians that “baptism” cannot be had without “discipline,” that we were all “baptized into Christ” and that we all “have clothed ourselves with Christ.” Baptism is “cheap grace” – insufficient by itself, incomplete all by itself. Christian life needs to be gritty. It needs to have substance. It needs to have bite. It needs more than just fiduciary faith. It thrives on performative faith, and when one stands up to perform, then one had better be prepared to be pelted by life with tomatoes and everything else besides!



I have been pelted with more than just tomatoes in my life. Do good. Strive and work for the good, and just as surely as night follows day, criticism and dissatisfaction will follow suit. St. Paul knew it all: the factionalisms among the Corinthians, the division of the early Christians between those who rooted for him and those who rooted for Apollos … Name it, Paul experienced it … floggings, imprisonment, shipwreck and all! This is the same Paul who begs us now never to focus only on cheap grace, but work also for costly grace: “no longer male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor freeman” for we “are all one in Christ Jesus.”



One day, at perhaps a low moment in Christ’s life, the Lord made a little survey … “Who do the crowds say I am?” Perhaps he, too, was looking like we all do at times, for a little affirmation, a little reassurance …



But know what? When Peter told him the best, the utmost, the highest … “You are the Christ of God!” he capitulated. He got back to form and said the unthinkable. He did not want to remain with the “cheap grace” of shallow accolades, and even shallower appraisals of people around him.



He chose costly grace. And he began to talk about substantial matters – the very reasons for which He was sent, the reason for which He came …



“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised!”



Lord, in my selfishness and desire to look for the easier way out, help me! Bring me back to form and lead me to work, not only for cheap grace, but for costly grace! My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God!



Need I say more? “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”



I rest my case … I want your grace in whatever form!

Friday, June 14, 2013

GRACE. FORGIVENESS. LOVE


11th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
June 19, 2013

GRACE, FORGIVENESS, LOVE

I was reminded of that movie some two years back: Eat, Pray, Love …  It is a story of a confused woman who went around the world trying to rediscover herself, and eventually came home to herself, and to relative peace of mind and heart by eating well in Italy, praying deeply in India, and finding what was supposed to be true love in Bali, Indonesia.

So, what does this have to do with today’s readings? Not much, you say? But my Catholic, sacramental imagination shows me some important connections … Allow me to explain …

Well, for a start, it was a woman that was behind the indiscretions of David. He wiggled his way to be able to do what he desired – and sinned – big time! Enough connection for you?

But the gospel speaks of another woman … confused? Probably! … sinful? Definitely! In search for something great and noble? Absolutely! There you have it! Connections galore!

But today, chauvinism is not my topic. Woman or man, servant or free, child or adult, Jew or Greek, Filipino or Indonesian … it doesn’t matter one wee bit. We all have fallen short of the glory of God. We all have sinned. Big time!

This is why I love the response … After getting convicted and being reminded just how wicked we all could be – whether woman or man – we all prayed: “Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.”

“I have sinned against the Lord!” That was David’s laconic understatement of the century! But laconic or not, David did tell the truth. He sinned big time and caused big trouble for Uriah, who even suffered an untimely death, for being an obedient soldier loyal to his King!

But today is not a day for us to gossip about David’s indiscretions. Today is not a day to glorify Aries Rufo’s “scoop” about the sins of the Fathers in the Philippine Church, never mind if the stories he says are old stories being rehashed one more time for the nth time. Today is not a day to focus on the sordid, the obvious, and no doubt pathetic and lamentable.

Today, the readings talk about grace. Today, the readings focus on forgiveness. Today, the readings pore on hope, as much on the pain of sin, as the possibility of grace and new life!

St. Paul puts it so nicely … a former persecutor, sinner and everything else in between, he now says with pride … “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me!”

That sinful woman with a flask of perfume in hand, was in search. I don’t know whether she was confused, but she definitely had focus. She knew what and whom to aim for. “She stood behind him,” the gospel says and began bathing the Lord’s feet with her tears, and wiping them with her hair. That has nothing to do with confusion, but with personal consternation for her own sins, for which she is now repenting! She must have sinned big time, to do something even bigger – to barge into a dinner party of the Lord and do the unthinkable!

Again, my Catholic, sacramental imagination runs wild … What could the chauvinist men of the times and of the place have thought and said?

Never mind the intrigues! Never mind the potential disbelief and surprise of whomever! Never mind the telenovela-like details of this surprising story!

Let’s focus on the great lesson of the story … the same lesson that David the big sinner learned, the same lesson that Paul, the big persecutor also learned, the same lesson that now this woman of ill-repute, but repentant as one could be, teaches us … the lesson that Pope Francis has been telling us since he became Pope … God never tires of forgiving us. It is us who tire of asking His forgiveness.

Sweet words of comfort, these are … as real as they are reassuring … “Your sins are forgiven” … “your faith has saved you; go in peace!”

Who needs to go to Italy, to India and to Bali? We can have them right here. Right now. Grace. Forgiveness. Love!

Friday, June 7, 2013

GOD CARES; GOD CALLS!

 
10th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
June 9, 2013

GOD CARES; GOD CALLS!



We are back to good, old ordinary time, the longest “time” of the liturgical year. But it is anything but ordinary. In these so-called “ferial” days, extraordinary things can – and, in fact, do – happen!



Take it from the distraught widow of Zarephath with whom the prophet Elijah was staying. Curiously, the boy grew sick “until he stopped breathing,” as the first reading says. Right on the days when a prophet was in the house, staying as guest! Thw widow complains, “Why have you done this to me, o man of God?” The prophet complains to God in his turn, “O Lord, my God, will you afflict even the widow with whom I am staying by killing her son?”



God knows how many times I have complained to the Lord! How many times I have lamented this or that! It makes for good prayer, I tell you! When one is in front of undeserved suffering, I become prayerful. I don’t know about you, but even Pope Francis says the same …  “lamenting is a form of prayer.” “It is not a sin,” he says.



But then again, I don’t know about you … But the more one prays; the more one laments to God; the more one begs God to take away this or that, the more He intervenes in our lives!



Take that once again, from Paul, who complained about his “thorn in the flesh.” The first reading tells us how God cares, how God is moved to help a woman in distress, a widow, at that.



Oh, yes, God cares! See what happened to the saints like St. Teresa of Avila. At a very difficult moment in her life, she complained, “If this is how you treat your friends, then I am not surprised you have so few friends!” God cares, indeed! And see how He has afflicted me. See how He has intervened in my life. I have suffered so much for the Church, and because of the Church … for the congregation, and on account of the same congregation.



Let me put it bluntly. God cares … But in the same breath, God calls! God comforts the afflicted, but God afflicts us in our short-lived comfort!



I complain all the time. I lament each time the afflictions come … once too often, I guess! But behind all these laments, all these complaints, I hear a call … a call to probe into the deep … Duc in altum! … a call, too, toward the heights … ascende superius! … a call to greater love, to greater generosity, to a more authentic spirituality.



I still suffer for the Church and on account of the Church. The most uncaring people could come from religion and religious life. But the most loving people could also come from where my afflictions originate!



I just came down from a hike up Mt. Pulag, up  in  the Cordilleras, my fifth climb in that beloved mountain. Our obligatory guide (even if we needed no guide!) was an old man in his 70s. I pitied him as much as I admired him. I was elated to know he was related to the fabled “Apo Usok” of decades ago, who was chieftain up on that mountain village near the equally fabled mountain. He did his role dutifully, even religiously! Old men like him should be living a life in relative comfort, I thought!



But no … being myself no longer a spring chicken, I cannot be comfortable. In a world where God is being eclipsed by hedonism, materialism, and runaway materialistic, mainstream media enveloped in an equally runaway culture of show business, where God is by no means featured, let alone, accepted, I cannot be comfortable. God continues to afflict me. God cares, but God calls, too. He beckons us all to engage in new evangelization, to help Him save a world now sold out to the good news of consumerism, comfort and cold godlessness.



The son of the widowed woman of Nain represents the world of young people who now are for all intents and purposes, dead – dead to God, dead to higher values, dead when it comes to a culture of life and a passionate dedication and commitments to things that are above.



When God cares, He calls – to life! “Young man, I tell you, arise!




Saturday, June 1, 2013

ALL WE HAVE AND ALL WE NEED!

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Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord – Year C
June 2, 2013

ALL WE HAVE AND ALL WE NEED!



Today is a day of miracles. I know it sounds far fetched, but I mean it. Everyday when Mass is celebrated counts as a day of miracles. Bread and wine are changed into Christ’s Body and Blood … that’s for sure! … sure enough for those who have faith, those who believe, those who take God seriously, and take Him for His Word.



We all take some things very seriously. There are those of us who believe everything that mainstream media says, or all that our favorite celebrity endorses. There, too, are those who believe all survey outfits, or even any charlatan, “celebutante” or “cewebrity”  who happens to be “popular” enough to have a digital following. I have no problems about whom you believe or follow with dogged devotion. But I do propose to fellow believers to believe more on what God teaches us today.



We have no less than God’s Word today to hold on to. And this is what He says: “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (2nd reading).



Just about the only time Melchisedech the priest was mentioned in the OT is on the occasion when he did something prophetic. He offered bread and wine, quite unlike the other prophets and other figures then.



Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the “house of bread.” He who was going to offer Himself as the “bread of life” and the “bread come down from heaven” was born in the house of bread.



Later, when he was gradually revealing himself and his mission for humanity and the world, he did the miracle that both pointed to the past and the future, at one and the same time – the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves! He fed everyone, with only five loaves and two fishes! The miracle pointed to the past – and alluded to Melchisedech’s offering of bread and wine. The same miracle pointed to the future – and foreshadowed the total self-immolation that He did when He died on the cross and shed His blood, but not before offering Himself first as the Bread of Life, the bread come down from heaven, at the Last Supper!



In life, in reality, many times we only have “five loaves and two fishes.” … We don’t have all we want. We may lack in many things and may not have everything we really pine for. The Lord knows that. The Lord knew that “all we have” is really those five loaves on many occasions.



Today, feast of his perfect self-offering to us as food that leads to eternal life, He reminds us, that all we have is all we need. But there is something we need to do. “Do this in remembrance of me.”



That is, make of your lives a memorial, a testimony, a witness to the one important thing in life – that having God, having Christ in Word and Sacrament, in flesh and blood, under the appearances of bread and wine, is all we might have, but all that we need.



Praised and blest every moment, be the Most Holy and Divine Sacrament!