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Friday, September 27, 2013

THE FOLLY OF SECURITY AND VAIN CONFIDENCE


26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
September 29, 2013

THE FOLLY OF SECURITY AND VAIN CONFIDENCE!

The words of Amos are a stunner: “Woe to the complacent in Zion!” I am not a biblical scholar, nor do I intend to pretend to be one today, but there is surely something everyone can say about this stunning statement solely from its face value. One does not need to be a genetic scientist to confidently say this … “All you who feel so secure and vainly feel overconfident, take care!”

Well, truth be told, Amos was talking to a very precise group of people who probably were getting it so good then in life: people who were “lying upon beds of ivory and stretched comfortably in their couches.”

Was he taking potshots at the filthy rich of his times? Was he condemning those who wallowed in “brilliance and splendor” just because they could afford to? I have no answer for this.

But I do have something to say about the rantings of Amos when pitted against the two other readings. Paul was writing to Timothy. He cautioned him to “keep the commandment,” until the Lord appears, whom he referred to as “the blessed and only ruler” who “dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see.”

Take that as meaning there is someone more important than “brliiance and splendor,” “beds of ivory” and “comfortable couches.” The complacent in Zion or anywhere else, for that matter, is one who could not be distracted from his “security and vain confidence” by talks about God, or at least about godly stuff.

Indifference is what that is called … complacency … foolish security or vain confidence … the attitude, like that of the Pharisees who surrounded the Lord when he recounted the parable that we heard today – about the rich man and pitiable Lazarus.

The Pharisees were not simply indifferent. No … that would be too kind to them. They were rejecting of anything and everything that cramped their style, for they definitely were not just lovers of the letters of the law … they were not just simply sticklers for details and unbending advocates of immaculate clean cups, jugs, and kettles, or clean hands, for that matter! They were lovers of money, too, and their love for wealth and privilege covered up for the lack of other lesser loves for anyone other than themselves.

They were indifferent even as they rejected the Lord and his followers. They were complacent even as they focused all attention at proving themselves right and righteous, and all others as wrong and misguided; dirty and sinful; poor and hopelessly irrelevant.

They most likely thought they would never lose it all – the position of privilege, power, influence, and  the perch of haughtiness and complacency.

We have a timely example from our times. The thieves in and out of government, mostly honorable men and women, from supposedly honorable branches of government, were lying in the modern-day equivalent of ivory beds and stretched comfortably in their benches in the “hallowed halls” of congress and the senate and the executive branches. Many of them are graduates of elite schools, both here and abroad. Most of them are very articulate and brilliant in their own right. But someone who took a techvoc course for all of six months in some fly-by-night institution, got away with loot so big, so unimaginable for the rest of us who only count pesos in terms of hundreds and thousands. That is, if we are to believe each and everyone of them, who all make undying protestations of innocence and what amounts to gross stupidity, for allowing hundreds of millions to disappear into thin air, and leaving the hoi polloi, the ptochoi (the teeming masses of the poor) so different and so markedly distant by light years from them who form the plousioi (the rich of the land)!

Do we now condemn the rich for being rich? No .. the readings today do not call the poor to take up arms and revolt against the rich per se. But the readings today rail against the indifferent, complacent rich, not because they are rich, but because they are sinfully callous, insensitive, and utterly uncaring for the likes of Lazarus, the poor man outside the city gates.

We really couldn’t care less where the rich live and where they put their money. But the Lord tells us today to care … He denounces through Amos the “complacent in Zion” who only worried about themselves and their needs. The Lord tells us today, not to hate Dives the rich man, but never to emulate him for his being callous and indifferent to the plight of Lazarus, and then recognizing him only when he found himself in dire need, when he was already beyond help.

We Filipinos are a forgiving and tolerant people. We hardly question why politicians are rich. We even expect them to be rich and powerful. But we Filipinos are a basically caring people. And we cannot understand the uncaring, complacent, indifferent attitude of all those who, after becoming politicians, behave like a fly perched on a carabao’s back, who now look down at everyone else, bloated by a sense of entitlement, and blinded by position and prestige.

We take up common cause today with Amos and pray for the rich (the plousioi), the powerful, the poor (ptochoi) who may have forgotten where they are: with feet still firmly planted on the ground … And here’s a timely reminder for us all, ptochoi and plousioi: “Woe to the complacent in Zion!”

Friday, September 20, 2013

WISDOM IN CRISIS; PRUDENCE IN MOMENTS OF CHOICE

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25th Sunday Year C
September 22, 2013

WISDOM IN TIMES OF CRISIS; PRUDENCE IN MOMENTS OF CHOICE



The parable in today’s gospel passage definitely sounds weird to modern ears. What is the point of the story? Is it OK to spend what is not yours to get yourself off the hook, just as the steward (manager) did? Is it OK to bribe everyone with your fake generosity in order to earn friends just in case you end up being jobless? These are just two of the many possible questions we can ask about the strange story that only Luke reports.



Let me premise my reflection by reminding you all of something we all know already … God can write straight with crooked lines. God’s ways are not man’s ways, and His teaching comes to us in a multiplicity of guises and a variety of packages, but the basic teaching is what we all need to understand, not the details, not the hows or the wherefores, but essentially the what.



I am sure you have experienced the like. One day, you find yourself all of a sudden face to face with a big crisis. You are at the crossroads. You are at a loss as for what to do. You are in front of a big dilemma. You have no choice about not doing anything and not acting on the big problem that stares you in the face. You must act and act promptly, but what exactly your action ought to be is not clear.



Here is where a possible clear teaching that emerges from the story can enter in. The steward or manager did not lose time agonizing about what to do. He decided promptly. He acted decisively. He behaved wisely yet prudently, taking into consideration all possible consequences. He was not one to be paralyzed by endless analysis of the situation.



Putting aside then, the usual moral questions that the story engenders in most minds, there is no denying the fact that the manager showed wisdom and careful calculation to meet the looming crisis headlong.



What then, does this have to do with our lives, right here, right now?



I would like to offer a suggestion …



The times we live in are definitely deeply steeped in crisis. We are torn between trying to make the earth productive so as to created legitimate wealth, and preserving the world of nature in the earth that is our only home. We are torn between being legitimately active in politics and being branded as people engaged in politicking. We want to serve the common good, but we also want to cater to our personal good. We want to earn legitimately, but we also want to amass wealth and raise our standard of living just a notch higher everytime. We want to live simply, but we also want to keep up with the Joneses, and live the ultimate dream of having a home worth 400 million pesos. We want to be down there dealing with humble stuff and moving around in our humble circles but we also want to be recognized, appreciated, and possibly become known by, and be popular to many people.



We want this and that, not this or that. We want so many things and our minds are divided between, even at times, conflicting allegiances!



I would like to suggest there is something the steward can teach us. He may have cut a few corners here and there, but no one can accuse him of not knowing what he wants. He knew what he wanted, and he was focused on getting what he wanted. He had the wisdom and the prudence to decide promptly and act quickly.



But then, here enters something else in the story that makes it truly intriguing and at the same time, interesting.



The Lord, no doubt, praised his prudence and quick thinking. But in the same breath, he offers a caveat, a warning, a reminder. Quick thinking and prompt action do not suffice. Something else is needed for us who claim to be children, not of this age, but of the light. For the manager, who, presumably belonged to the “children of this world,” such worldly prudence is becoming and praiseworthy for a steward, who, ought to be cunning enough to extricate himself from a crisis situation.



But here is the good news. We are not just ordinary earthly stewards. We are more than this. We are children of the light. And being such, something else, something more than just worldly prudence is needed. We need wisdom from above and that wisdom is not just an intellectual trait, but more of a spiritual trait. We need virtue. We need strong stuff that comes not only from earthly cunning and worldly calculation.



The Lord mentioned “trustworthiness” at least three times in the course of the passage. And that trustworthiness, related to “faithfulness” or fidelity ought to be a strong trait in all those who claim to be children of the light, and not of this age.



Are you a child of this world, or a child of the light? Think quickly. Decide promptly. Choose life, not death; choose light, not darkness. “You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Friday, September 13, 2013

SELFISH, SELFIES, GENEROUSLY, GODLY!


24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
September 15, 2013

SELFISH, SELFIES, GENEROUSLY, GODLY!

You know the type. They are everywhere … at churches, malls, planes, airports, restos … why, even rest rooms! They take countless pics of themselves in various poses and facial expressions, with matching hand gestures for accent. And they post them via social networking sites for the world to “like” rant and rave on!

Psychotherapists now are almost one in claiming that the internet has been steadily churning out narcissists one facebook or twitter pic or instagram post at a time. There is even a new term for all this … “impression management.” Narcissists spend a mighty long time each day “managing” one’s posts and pics in order to give the best impression of oneself as possible.

Selfies, they are now called. Incidentally, it is no accident of linguistics that it happens to rhyme with selfish, which in plain language, narcissism is all about – being focused on one self and not much else besides.

Today, I would like to think that the readings point, not to selfies and selfishness, but to something great, noble, grand, and glorious.

The first reading pictures God doing a magnanimous act. He sends Moses to His people for they have erected the equivalent of a grand selfie – a molten calf, around which they danced, sang, and worshiped – in vain! But God was not one to be carried away by superficial “likes” in facebook, or “plus” in googleplus. God was not one to be carried away by rigged surveys and popularity contests. God was a God of truth, and one who made demands to live by that truth. God was a God of justice, who saw to it that people also lived out the demands of the same justice. But God, was as much a God of justice as He is a God of compassion and mercy. “The Lord relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.” (1st reading).

You know the kind, too. They post something about themselves on their wall, more often than not, their latest “impression managed” portrait in the best possible angle, wearing the most egregious outfit, or eating the most delicious doughnut at Starbucks or some fancy café … They wait a few seconds … If nothing happens within the first 2 or 3 minutes, they then “like” their own post, like as if to give themselves a “high five” for being so beautiful, so cute, so likeable, and so debonair!

Contrast this with St. Paul, who does anything but a selfie, but offers a lowly confession: “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.”

Selfishness gives way to selflessness. Arrogance gave way to generosity, and incipient grandiosity in his rabid persecution of Christians gave way to Godliness and humility.

Life as we know it now is full of selfies and selfishness. The world as we know it now is reeling under the weight of the “I, Me, and Mine” syndrome. Even the two sons of a provident father in the gospel were stricken with this “mining” business … “Give me my share of the property,” said the younger son. “Why throw a party for your son who threw away your wealth?” said the older son, like as if to say, “What about me?” “I never even had a kid goat to celebrate with my friends!”

But the mining business is not what the gospel and the readings teach us today. All three readings go against the grain. They fly in the face of selfishness and selfie culture.

They all teach us about God, even as they show us how to be godly and generous. And being such is not something for the selfish who are addicted to selfies. Being such has to do with the likes of Paul who worried not about being “liked” and being popular, and being the darling of SWS and other survey outfits, rigged or realistic.

No one gets noticed by being humble. No one gets rave reviews by being lowly and living a hidden life with God together with the least, the last, the lowest, and the lost.

The Holy Father, incidentally, stopped the giving of the title “monsignors” to priests. No big deal … they are nothing but honorific titles. They are nothing but the equivalent of “likes” in facebook. They offer nothing new and substantial to one’s personhood.

The only “rise” we can expect to get from God, is not being raised up to earthly glories that flee and fade in due time. Try this, dear friends. It works!

“I will rise and go to my father.”

Saturday, September 7, 2013

MORE THAN A SLAVE, A BROTHER!

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23rd Sunday Year C
September 8, 2013

MORE THAN A SLAVE, A BROTHER!



Today is a day of contrasts, tenderness, generosity, and mercy. The Book of Wisdom (first reading) contrasts the ways of the Lord and the ways of man. While we can fathom the “timid deliberations” of man, we cannot that easily “conceive what the Lord intends.”



But although God’s ways are indeed, not like man’s ways, we proclaimed the conviction of our faith together with tenderness right after the first reading: “In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.”



But what does the conviction of faith in a God of mystery and tenderness lead us to, we might ask? Let the second reading show us in concrete … There goes Paul writing to Philemon, interceding with the same tenderness of Christian charity, on behalf of Onesimus, once a slave, but now a brother in the Lord.



I write from a place where I spent a great part of my younger years, both as formand and formator, accompanying the young postulants in their journey towards self-discovery for the nth time in my life as formator. Many other groups have undergone the same process under my tutelage. As I lead, I learn. As I foster growth, I grow, too. As I facilitate healing, I, too, get healed. As I talk of transcendence, I, too, am gradually transformed. As I talk about unfreedoms and other forms of interior slavery, I, too, become like Onesimus, once upon a time a slave, but now a dear brother in the Lord.



The world is steeped now in myriad challenges. There is trouble brewing in Syria which is not even a Christian country. There is persecution going on everywhere where religious intolerance reigns supreme. There, too, is a de facto brewing potential constitutional crisis in the Philippines, brought about by revelations of massive corruption in the highest echelons of government. The bigger crisis is not so much in corruption for that is something we already knew was happening. It lies in the brazen lies and denials and the cover-ups being done by the very same perpetrators, who are hiding behind the intricacies of the law, to declare their “innocence” before a people who by now already know better than to believe their shamefaced lies.



There is slavery of all kinds, even of the depraved kind. Great crowds still continue to follow where the Lord leads, for we all long for saving truth, and we all long to be delivered from these and other forms of slaveries that bedevil us, individually and collectively. In the Philippine context, although the Church has been and still is condemned for “meddling too much in politics,” the reality remains that the great crowds still seek for leadership, for guidance, for certain and strong and stable shepherding, to lead our people out of this impasse of moral corruption. Many still condemn the Church and hold her accountable for the rampant moral depravity in and out of government, like as if the Church were responsible for what individuals in government do.



Today, a day when we traditionally celebrate so tender a feast day of so tender a Mother, Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mother of us all, the Church continues to lead us. The Church calls us to be generous and reminds us of two important things. First, we cannot be disciples of the Lord if we did not know how to “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters.” Second, more than just freeing ourselves from natural affiliative bonds of family, he counsels us even further generosity: “renounce all possessions” as a precondition of discipleship.



Of course, we do not need to interpret all this literally. But we do need to understand what it all means, what this generosity is all about in the long run. And it is all about being free, not hindered, not bound to, and not bogged down in earthly and material concerns. It all means not being enslaved by anything material, anything that has to do with earthly human bonds, including family bonds. It means being free from, so as to be free for.



Paul got it right. Philemon was getting it right, too. Onesimus was once a slave, maybe even a slave to other stuff, and not just to Onesimus. Paul declares him to be what we all already are, by baptism. By God’s choice. By God’s call.



Let us be true to becoming what we already are. Let us be tender in asking the Lord that we might become more of what He has already made us to be. Let us be generous in our self-offering and even more generous in giving up what we hold on to so dearly, so selfishly. Let us be true disciples of mercy, instead of merely being crowds of mercenaries out to get what is best for us from the wonder worker named Jesus.



For this is what He has mercifully given us … the reality that we were “once slaves, but now brothers and sisters in the Lord!” What more can we ask?