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Saturday, October 26, 2013

RIGHTEOUSNESS “TRUE AND THROUGH”



30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
October 27, 2013



Sirach today smacks of sincerity … on God’s part primarily, not his own. He speaks of a God who truly listens, who “judges justly and affirms the right.” This is what the psalmist also was convinced of. He was convinced enough for him – and us – to acclaim: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.”



I write this short reflection in between sessions, as I preach to group of teachers from Imus, Cavite. Serendipitously, we speak of pretty much the same stuff that today’s readings speak of – the need for everyone who wants to grow towards emotional, psychological and spiritual maturity, to become straightforward, not duplicitous and deceptive.



Sadly, in our times, double-talk is all we get from leaders and pundits alike. In the Philippine context, the pork barrel has supposedly and officially been abolished. But it has been resurrected even before it was scrapped, through other fancy and very creative (and very deceptive) ruses and guises. Duplicitousness and deception are both the name of the game nowadays … say one thing; do another.



Paul is no such deceptive and manipulative leader. No … he did not mince words when talking of discipleship, but neither did he prevaricate and take resort to double-entendres. He said what he exactly meant, and he meant what exactly he said. And if you call this close to boasting, so be it, but one thing he cannot be accused of is engaging in double-talk. “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”



Paul did what was expected of him … and more besides!



His sense of righteousness was true and genuine, and his witness of faith shone through unequivocally, inevitably!



We could learn a lesson or two from Paul and Sirach. But there is an even more telling lesson from the tax collector who was as sincere and honest as anyone could get. As anyone is called to be. Take it from him, who never found it compelling to do as the Pharisee did. The exact opposite of the tax collector, the Pharisee was not just not truthful. He was, on top of it, even accusatory and condemnatory. He “got a rise” from the poor repentant and sincere sinner who simply uttered: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”



It’s more fun in the Philippines, they say. In many ways, it is. But in many ways, too, it isn’t. Take political manipulation as a case in point. We have been hoodwinked, fooled, deceived and manipulated for decades by the biggest criminal syndicate that is government. We even had a convicted former president who was pardoned, but who never accepted his crime in the first place. The Pharisee in today’s gospel does not get too far from that same mold. Sincerity is what they lack. And their sense of righteousness does not ring true, and does not come through for us all.



Today’s liturgy, of course, is far richer than this issue. But among so many things, this is what we all need to reflect on today. It is not sufficient to come to Mass, more or less (with the majority really tinkering with their smartphones the whole length of the Mass, and others not even acknowledging the Lord’s real presence during and after the consecration!).



We need to come clean and come whole and holy. And it starts with one basic act – the sincere and honest acceptance that we are sinners, and the need for us to confess the truth that the God we have come to worship together, is not one who could be manipulated by shallow and inane statements like that of the Pharisee, with accusations thrown in for good measure: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector.”



False sense of righteousness. It does not ring true. Nor does it get through to us in a world already inundated and overwhelmed by too much duplicity and untruth.



The clear lesson for all of us? Work for righteousness “true and through.”

Friday, October 18, 2013

PERSIST, PERSEVERE, PRAY!

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29th Sunday Year C
October 20, 2013

STICK TO THE PLAN!



It is hard nowadays to stay the course. Every sea traveler knows this … every mountain climber is aware of the same. Everyone who goes to the malls understands this. You got to have a plan. You got to know what you need to buy, and nothing more, nothing else … lest you buy more than you really need, and a lot of what you really only want.



Moses’ roving, traveling band was engaged in battle. The Amalekites were not exactly good neighbors, but expert marauders. Moses literally needed both hands. No, he didn’t have to fight himself. Already old then, he delegated the task to Joshua. But Moses did not exactly hie off to his tent of an office and play computer games. He got his hands full, very literally. He kept them raised … in prayer, mind you … with a little help from Aaron and Hur, very literally, too!



Life is as hard as it can get at times. For us. For everyone. For all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. So, too, it was for Moses, Aaron, Hur, and Joshua!



We need to be engaged in battles galactic even here, even now … against our wants and desires (which for the most part are not what God wants and desires for us!) … against selfishness and the all-too-present tendency now to do selfies and all, to eternally post and re-post in Facebook, MySpace, Instagram, Pinterest, and all sorts of social networking sites. (Why, selfies even rhymes perfectly with selfish, which is what they are essentially about!).



We are engaged in extreme battles against heaven and earth … we not only use whatever the earth has and offers … we actually abuse the earth and everything there is in it … like as if there were no tomorrow.



Often, we can’t stand the heat in the kitchen, and we capitulate to our good, old, reliable comfort zone. When the going gets tough, only the tough gets going, and mind you, we are nowhere near the ranks of the few, the brave, the chosen! We easily give up the fight and throw in the towel.



Life could indeed be difficult. And complex, too, according to M. Scott Peck. We want something and work for it, and when we fail to get it, we all too often give up.



Today is a Sunday of stick-to-itiveness. Today is a day of persistence, of perseverance, and endurance! Today is a day for pray-ers, who, like Moses, kept his hands raised up to God in unending prayer.



Let me tell you what this means for you and for me … First, it is clear from the first reading that we can’t do it all. There are those who could engage in direct battle and those who can only provide the more important moral and higher support that no mere mortal can give. We need God. Period. Simple!



Second, we need to pick our battles. We need to start with basic givens. We cannot do battle with earthly opponents and still do battle with God. We need to accept God as Lord, and as He who made heaven and earth. We cannot act like we are gods, equal to Him. Gods, after all, do not pray to each other. That is only for mythology books. There is only one God, and He is up there in the heavens. And men and women do have to do the praying and God doing the gracing and life-giving! Entiendes?



Third, life is not cool, at times. Accept it. Life is not fair many times. Admit it. Suffering and opposition are part of the game called life. Get used to it. Take it from Paul, who counsels us: “proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage througha ll patience and teaching.” Oh, did I mention the need to be patient and long-suffering? Like Moses? Like Aaron and Hur?



But there is a clincher. The Ms. Prayerful and Persistent award goes to a woman of little stature, but of great model potential – the widow, who pleaded and prayed no end for a just decision on her favor.



She was no Miss Congeniality, but she was Ms. Perseverance –in-Prayer.



She had faith. She had courage. She had grit. And she got it in the end.



Is the heat getting too intense in the kitchen of your life? Stick to the plan. Stay the course. Hold down the fort. Put some fresh dose of stick-to-itiveness in your tank. Keep on praying and as the Russians says, keep on rowing to the shore. God is not far from those who suffer and remain steadfast.



For God is one who sticks to His plan. And the plan is, God loves you. God saves you. God wants you to live life in all its fullness. In and through one who did not run away from the challenge – Christ, who will come to judge the living and the dead.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

GRANT, GIFT, GRATITUDE?


28th Sunday Year C
October 13, 2013

GRANT, GIFT, GRATITUDE?

Certain words have all of a sudden become very popular in the Philippines … one of them is “scholars.” These poor deserving and brilliant students from the boonies suddenly became the focus of legislators’ undying proclamations of love, largesse, and lasting generosity. Another is the word “gift.” The word has become synonymous with “grant,” with “incentive” or – let us now name it – everlasting “gratitude.”

Few people, of course, actually believe the legislators have the welfare of “scholars” uppermost in their minds, and only the most gullible would be led to believe that whatever monies were distributed post factum (read: the passage of something wanted by the big man on top) had to do with selfless grants, or altruistic “gifts” or philanthropic expressions of endless “gratitude.”

Be that as it may, we should accept one thing at least … Today’s readings do have a word or two to say about “gratitude.” And since we are at it, let me state from the outset, that gratitude, coming as it does from “gratis” which means “free,” is something freely given in return for something freely received.

And the important crucial word is “freely.”

Naaman was one person who did not deserve the help of Elisha. He was a leprous and a foreigner – by any standard a bad combination … (read: unclean, hated, and one who “does not belong”). Why Elisha went out of his way to give him tips for healing is the core of the mystery of charity.

But the mystery deepens, as we now see. Why Naaman, who followed his health tips to the letter and got cured and eventually returned took the mystery a notch higher. This is the mystery of gratitude!

We all know now that the shallow and less honorable “mysteries” (read: shenanigans!) taking place at the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of Philippine government all have nothing to do with these lofty mysteries whereof we speak. They all have been unmasked. And the honorable men and women that they love to call themselves have been exposed as nothing more than hoodlums in honorable garb, helping themselves to oodles of moolah that never belonged to them in the first place.

But I digress … Naaman was one such grateful guy who did the unthinkable! First, he asked for health advice from a Jew, Elisha. Second, he actually came back! Now this is what “grace upon grace” really is all about. It’s about being gracious for having received equal graciousness from others. It’s about being grateful for something one received freely, not begrudgingly.

Naaman ought to be the postmodern man or woman’s model now. We live in a world populated by ungrateful people.

And why do you think so?

Simple. We live in a world characterized by a veritable narcissism epidemic. Among other things, narcissists have this so-called big sense of entitlement. They think they deserve everything, and that the world owes them everything. Like our politicians, they think they deserve to help themselves to the people’s hard-earned money from taxes. Like spoiled brats, we often think we deserve to get the best, be given the best, and be treated no less than the best.

The gospel takes it up notches higher. There were ten lepers. Lepers were no popular characters! They deserved nothing then. They were considered pariahs. They did not count for anything. But how many came back to return “grace for grace,” “grace upon grace”?

Only one!

The other nine probably thought it was nothing more than an “incentive” that was due to them in the first place. There was nothing to thank anyone for, for that was after all, all due to them. They were, after all, deserving of all of it.

This is the story of us all. This is the mystery about public money disappearing into thin air … then … as well as now. This is the story of SIN.

Let us go make another story with a different ending. That story begins now, for you and me … “The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.”

It is the Lord … not the party, not the boss, not me! To Him is due all thanks, all gratitude, for the truth is, “everything is grace.”

Friday, October 4, 2013

INTEGRITY, JUSTICE, TRUST, & SERVICE


27th Sunday Year C
October 6, 2013

INTEGRITY, JUSTICE, TRUST & SERVICE

The word “trust” makes it very often once again in the news. We speak a lot about “public trust” associated with “public office” and we are disappointed when there is wanton betrayal of public trust.

Oftentimes though, we see failings in others, but we do not see the same failings in ourselves.

But first, let us go to the readings … Habakkuk was impatient. He wanted quick results. He had been praying for help from above, but “God wouldn’t listen” – well, at least, not as quickly as he would have wanted Him to. God plastered him down with a statement point blank: “The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”

Which would you rather be … be rash or be just? … be quick and show results right off, or be slow but sure? … be imprudent and make so many mistakes, or be circumspect and effective in the long run?

I know of one whom Paul trusted so much even in his youth … Timothy. He reminds Timothy today, not necessarily to be youthful and brash, but be prudent and fruitful in his testimony to the Lord. He tells him not to rush, but to “stir into flame the gift of God” that he had received through Paul.

I don’t know how many of you have had the experience of starting a bonfire, or even cooking on a wooden stove. You can’t afford to be brash, and you definitely can’t be in a rush. You need to do it ever so gradually, starting with small kindlings and then gradually adding bigger pieces of wood until you have a big enough flame to cook food, or make your favorite roast.

One needs to have patience. One ought to have focus. And one has to have determination to do what one has been told to do, or what one has set out by himself to do.

I have heard in my lifetime some very heartwarming stories of trust and fidelity that paid off handsomely in the end. The first was way back when I was a young student in Rome. One of the early OFWs, a teacher with a Master’s Degree back in the Philippines, had been working for so long with an Italian family of stature. She was rewarded generously for being trustworthy, for serving the family so faithfully, and so patiently.

The second happened only quite recently in the States. A Filipina caregiver, who served her master with dedication and love, was rewarded with a big inheritance, far bigger than anyone can reasonably dream of.

In both cases, and in some more that I do not speak of here, the issue was trust, fidelity, humility, selfless service, and personal dedication in the spirit of charity, all virtues that speak of what Pope emeritus Benedict XVI called “gratuitousness.”

This is what the servant of today’s gospel was expected to show. No servant, according to the Lord, would be so brash as to sit with his or her master at table after a long hard day’s work. That servant would still be expected to be up and about, and be at the beck and call of his or her master.

But there is some additional detail that the parable tosses in for good measure … When that faithful and trustworthy servant is lauded for his or her work, that same spirit of gratuitousness would most likely lead him or her to say: “I am no more than an unprofitable servant; I have simply done what I was obliged to do.”

The opposite of gratuitousness is that all-too-common malady of our postmodern times – the huge sense of entitlement on the part of so many spoiled brats in society. To have a sense of entitlement would mean to follow the “taking form” or the violent form, instead of the “giving form.”

St. Francis of Assisi gave it all away, including those which were rightfully his as an heir to his father’s fortune. His sense of self-entitlement was replaced by the spirit of gratuitousness. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta kept nothing for herself and gave everything away for the least, the last, the lowest and the lost.

We live in a world saturated now by narcissists. We have a veritable narcissism epidemic all over the world. No wonder there is so much corruption and dishonesty in and out of government. But there is no corresponding acceptance and admission. People now, perhaps including ourselves, instead of “hearing God’s voice,” have actually “hardened our hearts.”

Today is as good a day as any other for us to be reminded: “the rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”