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Saturday, July 27, 2013


17th Sunday Year C
July 28, 2013

All About Relationships!

The three readings today somehow remind me of Oliver Twist and his intense, heartfelt, and plaintive request: “Please sir, I want some more!” It was a prayer like no other … a prayer poor Oliver Twist had to do when the lot fell on him to do so. It was, of course, a prayer quite unlike that of Abraham, who besought the Lord’s mercy on his own, unbidden by no one else, inspired from within and not from without, driven by charity and not by mere personal need – or, for that matter – of somebody else’s desire and want.

Oliver’s request was plaintive enough, heart-rending to be sure, except to Mr. Bumble, of course, whose job it was, not to grant favors, but to make those unfortunate waifs and orphans toe the line. All hell broke loose when Oliver uttered those famous words, as far as I can remember of the musical. The prayer went unanswered, and the favor was left ungranted. The waifs remained the pitiful, hungry ragamuffins that they were, and the musical, the movie, and the novel of Dickens continued, and still continues, to make money.

Abraham, for this reason – and more besides – is referred to as a man of faith. Today, he is presented as one who intercedes for unworthy Sodom and Gomorrah, who, for all intents and purposes, really deserved to be meted out corresponding justice. Abraham, with his steadfast and trusting faith literally haggled with the Lord and earned for the sinful people of the twin cities, a divine reprieve.

My task today is not to talk about a Mr. Bumble, who is incapable of granting such egregious requests from unworthy waifs like Oliver. My task today is not primarily to talk about a God who is so expansive in His love that He could grant what Abraham asked for, and then some!

My task today is to talk about you and me, children of Abraham, our father in faith as St. Paul referred to him. My task is to talk about the ways we pray, the ways we ask, and the ways we beg, steal, or borrow God’s infinite and overflowing mercy – or their exact opposite … the many ways we don’t pray; the many occasions we don’t ask, and the many times we show we don’t trust and hope in a God of mercy.

Fr. James Gilhooley has an interesting advice – that we use the APU method in our prayer, just like Abraham did. APU, he says, stands for aggression, persistence, and unreasonableness.

Abraham was certainly being aggressive. He did not leave anything to chance. He did not omit any possibility. He just asked God. Period. He was also persistent. Did I say he was persistent? Yes … he kept on repeating the same pleading. Like those batteries of old Eveready commercials, he just kept going, and going, and going! Did you get that right? He was persistent and insistent! But there was another uncanny trait that he showed. He was unreasonable. He asked for clemency for a people who deserved to be punished. He begged for mercy from God, for others’ sake, even if those others seemingly did not deserve it.

There are times in my life when I feel like Oliver Twist. I stand in need of many things. I desire and plead for a multiplicity of favors. But like Oliver, too, I plead, yes … but not on my own account, but goaded on because there is not much else I could do, and because there is not much choice left for me to do. On many occasions, I prayed, not because I wanted to and decided to, but because I had to.

The two examples of pray-ers in the Gospel are definitely of APU standard. The midnight beggar was simply aggressive – and need I say, persistent and unreasonably insistent? But more than just having that APU standard, the two pray-ers really capitalized on something else, something more basic, something more important, and something more effective in the long run. Both were related to the one they badgered. The first was a friend and a neighbor, and the other was a father to the one who was doing the pleading.

With all due respect to Fr. Gilhooley’s APU standard, I would like to suggest that the most important element in today’s lesson on prayer is something without which the A in aggression, the P in persistent, and the U in unreasonable will come to nought. What is that element?

Let’s get it straight from Lord’s mouth … When you pray, call on God, not just with aggression, persistence and unreasonableness, but more than anything else, call on Him as Father!

What father among you will not listen to your aggressive, persistent and unreasonable son who calls on you lovingly and trustingly as “Dad,” “Tatay,” “Papa?” It’s all about relationships, amigo!

Saturday, July 20, 2013


16th Sunday Year C
July 21, 2013


Abraham was not one to miss an opportunity. Seeing three men on their way towards some place else, Abraham saw the chance of a lifetime to offer some welcome and winsome service with a smile. And then some … rolls and some meat; curds and some milk … The guests surely were well provided.

Martha and Mary sure knew their places. Both did not pass off an opportunity as it came their way … in the person of their friend Jesus, whom Martha, by the way, called “Lord!” The “Lord” merited some five-star quality service. This, Martha gave “gratis et amore.” The same “Lord” surely was worthy of some serious attention and personal care. This, Mary did, by sitting down right next to the Lord’s ottoman chair, gracious and generous with her listening ears, as she was gracious and winsome in her heart.

Abraham and Sarah did their best to offer service and hospitality to the unexpected guests. Martha and Mary each had a way to make their guest feel important and needed, and definitely welcome. All four had a style. They pampered their guests with the best they had. Abraham had his “tender, choice steer,” curds and fresh milk to boot, and even “waited on them under the tree while they ate.” Martha showed her culinary and administrative skills, and lost no time putting her pots and pans to good use, and her long-lost recipes resurrected to life. Mary, on the other hand, lost precious time gracefully with the Lord, listening to Him intently, solely, with focus and passion – and, one more time – with feeling!

The three of them served with panache! And the fourth provided welcome with passion!

Who says the Lord can be approached and served in only one particular way? Who says that the Lord only wants service, and that He cares not much for anything that does not go beyond a five-star quality meal?

In our times, there are two extreme types of people … those who say they believe in God and spend all their time doing godly things, good things, worthy things – ostensibly for God, yes, but not necessarily on account of a God they personally are related to. Yet, there, too, are those who spend all their time in religious things, those who do nothing but engage in holy things, pious stuff, spiritual concerns, but for whom all other worldly concerns do not count for much. The former are definitely attuned to the world and contemporary reality, but never attached to a personal God. The latter, on the other hand, can be, and may be attached, but never attuned to the God they think they relate to.

I, too, can be an activist, and engage more than just pots and pans, and even fields and farms to do good. But if I am not attached to a personal God, all that activism is nothing more than a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. I, too, can be a pietistic prayerful person, and boast about being attached, but if I have no love either that shows in action, I am equally what the other one is – another noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.

All four individuals in the readings did hospitality. But real welcome and hospitality is given by one who can recognize their guest for who he is … who, then, does justice and who, then, can live in the presence of the Lord!

Abraham saw more in the three men. They were more than just lost and weary travellers expecting a bed for the night and food for sustenance of body and soul. They stood for someone higher, someone greater, someone as deeply mysterious as God who would later reveal Himself to be one in three – Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

This is the same God that Paul saw and knew first hand – “God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past,”now “manifested to his holy ones” … “the Christ in you, the hope for glory.”

What does one do before a presence so august, so sublime, so real, so near and yet so far, so real, and so invisible to many? How does one behave in His presence, in His coming-in-flesh in our midst?

Let us all do an Abraham and a Sarah! Out with the best the house can offer! Choice meat, and the best curds and milk. Everything’s on the house! This is hospitality at its best. Service galore to the utmost and the highest! Let us all do a Martha and offer service – five star excellent service! But let us all do a Mary, too, and offer that same service with a smile and some seriousness for the long haul – some spiritual nourishment, replenishment for the heart and soul as much for the body.

Service, yes! … and a plus that is more than Google Plus+ --- service and a smile, service plus serious study and reflection that is worthy of a faith in Him that “comes from hearing!” Attunement, yes, and attachment, too! … to a God with us, a God come-in-flesh, a God-wth-us.

Friday, July 12, 2013


15th Sunday Year C
July 14, 2013


We all suffer from some type of paralysis at some point. We are often petrified in our fears, in our uncertainties, in our mistrust, and in our lingering suspicions. We dare not lift a finger most times to help. “What if the fellow is just pretending to be sick and needy?” “What if the beggar banging at my door is really a poseur out to pull a fast one on me?”

We all are potential good Samaritans. We all dream somehow of being like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or any other great saint we hear about or read about. But, too sad, too bad, all we do oftentimes is engage in wishful thinking.

All three readings speak about possibilities. The first reading from Deuteronomy speaks about the “word” as being very “near to us” – within reach, at arm’s length, readily available to those who would simply reach out and do not much else. The second reading speaks about a God so noble and lofty, whose “image” in Jesus Christ, became so close, so near, so within reach by everyone. In and through what theologians call “high Christological” language, this eminently transcendent God has become one with us, near us, through the same Jesus Christ, at one and the same time, glorious Lord, and compassionate Savior.

But the real clincher is the Gospel from Luke. In and through a simple parable, that same “closeness” between God and us, is not something we theorize upon, or reflect on in the abstract, but something we do … something we perform … something we live in concrete.

In our times, we are beset with so many pressing needs. There is a call for us to be active in socio-political matters, where most of the real “action” is (read: socio-ethical issues, like the big issue of corruption and organized crime). There, too, is the pressing need for believers to be actively present in the world of culture, where so much miseducation happens (read: the progressive dehumanization of the Filipino people, thanks and no thanks, to mainstream show business, mass media, and the runaway world of entertainment). There, too, on top of everything, the even more urgent need for us to be present in social issues that stare us in the face – the issue of massive poverty, the related issues of labor, and matters associated with social justice (read: the need to strike a balance between siding with an ideologically inspired – leftist -  “labor unions” and a Gospel-inspired right of laborers to form “associations” and mutual support societies that are not tainted with either ideology and politics, or both).

The needs are many and the questions are real and pressing. For one like me who is also teaching theology, the ever present and nagging question is always this … what do I do to walk the talk and put flesh to what I echo down as the official teachings of the Church? What do I do so that the orthodoxy that we preachers talk about, also becomes translated into orthopraxis?

Answers are not easy to come by. Nor is the practice wrinkle-free at all times. Idealism and activism seem to be the extreme poles that one is in danger always of falling into – either becoming an activist or an armchair idealist. And both poles seem to always end up in futility!

Today the readings appear to speak to me about not engaging further in more analysis that leads only to nothing more but inutile and fruitless paralysis. All three readings tell me that we all have what it takes. We all have the seed of the word within us. We all have received sufficient grace for us to do what in our limitedness and finiteness and weakness each one of us can do.

But the tragedy does not lie here. We all have what is needed. The tragedy lies in the glaring fact that we don’t do what we can. We remain paralyzed. We remain on the level of inaction, maybe at times, even hoping against hope  that the problems that menace us, and the challenges that overwhelm us, might someday go away.

I have realized long ago that my forte is not in community organizing. I am not good at being out there in the front lines. I am more of a planner, a visionary, one who can help people envision a better and do-able future. I am good at teaching. I am good at writing. I am good in speaking. Others may not be as good as me in this line, but they are good at being in the frontlines. They are best when they are executing what others have envisioned.

I aks my readers and hearers to define what they are best at. Not all could do a Peter or a Paul. Not all could be just like Apollos or the many women who worked simply in the background. But they all had one thing in common. They all knew that the word is near, “already in [their] mouths and in [their] hearts.”

Only one thing is left for them to do … we all need to “simply carry it out.”

Jim Wallis says that many people simply follow the “wet finger” syndrome. They wet their fingers to see where the wind is blowing and follow accordingly. He suggests something radical, a little like what the Good Samaritan did … not go with the flow, and do what is expected of us to do. He counsels us not to follow where the wind blows, but to “change the wind.” Change the way people think. Change the course of culture. Change the destiny of showbiz in the country. Become the change that you want, and dare to be different. Like Moses. Like Paul. Like Christ. Like Pope Benedict. Like Pope Francis.

You only have to carry it out!

Friday, July 5, 2013


14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
July 7, 2013


I remember an old thriller of a movie, where a man dabbles in some kind of well-thought out high level crime by joining an organized group of criminals. When the crime was done and the spoils were supposed to be divided among them, one of them, the villain, unexpectedly pulls a fast one on everybody else who, each, was left holding an empty bag. The villain, in the end, had this to say: “Amateurs should not play games with professionals!” And he made a clean escape with all the booty in hand.

Amateurs, indeed, should not be playing games with professionals. Take it from one who dabbled a little with basketball during the days when psychomotor skills, not brash and braun, were all that mattered; when there was far less bruising and bone-breaking body contact necessary. Aging now, and with far less agility and far more fragility in body and bone, I ought never play tumble with youthful “professionals” in their own right.

Lambs ought not gambol with wolves … For one, wolves don’t gambol aimlessly. No, they go for the kill, and they are expertly, deadly skillful at what they do, initially stalking silently their prey, and given the right conditions, would pounce and pursue on the hapless clueless gentle lamb, that ends up as a pack of wolves’ lunch, dinner or snack.

I must confess at times I feel more like a lamb in the midst of wolves in certain areas of the vast human enterprise. In a world that abounds in con artists and salespeople dead set on making a quick sale, I, as, at times, a clueless buyer, can be more of a sucker than a successful entrepreneur. I buy in, and fall, head-first, into a waiting trap. And I know others, too, who end up buying something they realize they have no need for, just after the salesman had left, and knocked on the doors of another sucker in the neighborhood.

Sometimes, I feel more like a lamb, unable to rightly and justly “boast” of what I can do and am capable of doing. Today, St. Paul tells us that it’s OK, at times, to boast and boast bravely.

Sometimes, too, I feel like a lost lamb, wandering in the prairie world of professionals who seem to know everything there is to know about the business, and I am caught up in my little pocket calculator, wondering how on earth congressmen and other politicians who receive no more than 60 K for monthly official salary, can afford to pay for every fiesta, and procure all the needed balls and trophies in the obligatory “basketball league” in every street corner or “kanto” in beloved “Filipinas” (whatever happened to good, old Pilipinas … am crying now, not for Argentina, but for beloved Pilipinas).

Sometimes I feel like a lowly lamb, unable to connect with the digital natives of my times, who seem not to be afraid of pushing buttons and manipulating images in capacitive or resistive touch screens (why, in my childhood, push buttons were meant to be used sparingly and gingerly or else they break apart!) The young nowadays move along in techno country, oozing with confidence , that we who only played with empty milk cans, and useless pieces of driftwood, never had.

But today, as an educator, as a teacher, preacher and presider at this assembly, as a priest, prophet, and king, like unto Christ the one, true Mediator and Savior, I am called precisely to be like a lamb, and go right into the world of wolves, to save at least some of them.

As a humble lamb, I need to claim the “glorious liberty of the children of God,” and boast rightly in the Lord … No, not about me, but all about Him who saved me and who is my strength, my savior, and my Lord.

The world I live in is more than just a wolves’ den. More often than not, I feel like an amateur moving in a world populated by professionals in every imaginable field. I am weak. I am ill-prepared. I am ignorant of so many things.

But there is something that is abundant in this world of professionals, in this world of heroes and heels … “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few.” The Lord needs help to save this world. The Lord could use an extra pair of hands, and a generous dose of heroism and zeal.

I am afraid. Still. Shaky before the powerful and the learned, I shudder at the so many things that need to be done. But allow me to boast today, like St. Paul …
“Behold, I have given you the power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.”

Yes, even the lowly lamb in the presence of ravenous wolves can have ultimate victory. And it comes, not from the lamb’s innate power and strength, but from the strength of him who has called me to be a priest in His name, in His person, on His behalf. May I never boast except in His name!