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Sunday, September 28, 2014


26th Sunday Year A
September 28, 2014


They say every saint had a past and every sinner has a future. Agree! St. Lorenzo Ruiz, for his glorious martyrdom in Japan, originally did not go there to seek for that cruel death. He had other motives. He had other plans. Not that were bad of themselves, but they definitely were not what eventually he suffered and died for.

We all were children once upon a time. We all felt picked on by our parents, who always seemed to have a ready command or a quick errand for us children to do then. Who among us did not have a ready answer for either of them, or both? “Why me?” “Not again!” “I am busy!” “I got tons of homework to prepare for school!” What child did not answer thus, at least on a few occasions: “Yes, Dad. Count on me. I will do it later,” and then went his/her merry way playing games with neighborhood kids until he or she felt hungry? What child here with us never ever had at least the urge to say: “No, I am not doing that!”

Yes, we all experienced that one way or another. But let me qualify that a bit. We also experienced having a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of ways. In our worst moments, we answered “yes” to the command, but never really complied … or complied begrudgingly … or ranted in a way faintly similar to the Jews who complained: “The Lord’s way is not fair!”

Yes, after all these years as a priest, after so many years as an educator, I have complained countless times to the Lord: “Why do evil men’s ways prosper while all I do always in disappointment end?”

This is what I see on hindsight. But hindsight – that capacity to look at the past – also leads to both insight and foresight! What insight do I have today, now that I find common cause (and common complaint!) with that anonymous guy that Ezekiel refers to in the first reading? After the plaint came the realization born of the grace of insight: “If one turns from the wickedness he has committed and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life.”

This is what I now see as precious insight … the exact same insight that came to St. Paul, who, on hindsight, was really a cruel persecutor in the past, but who found it in his heart to change his mind and change his ways! This same Paul the former persecutor, now talks convincingly of things that didn’t even cross his mind: love, compassion, mercy, joy, humility, and self-depreciation for God’s sake.

I come from a big family. God knows how much help my parents needed when we were all growing up. Each one of us felt picked on everyday as there were countless errands to do, piles of clothes to wash, and mounds of plates and trash to clean after. For not just a few times, I behaved like the elder son, who said, “No,” but eventually did as told. For countless times, I behaved like the younger one, who answered “yes,” but never got around to doing what was asked of him.

The older one had hindsight and insight. He thought better and thought well. And the thinking, reflecting process led him to foresight – what we postmoderns now prefer to call as being “proactive.” He changed his mind. And he changed his ways.

That, my dear friend, is what metanoia or conversion is all about. It starts with insight – a change of mind born of a reflection of things past. That change of mind leads to change of heart. And the rest, as they say, is history!

I am no saint. Not yet. Not in my wildest dreams. But I am called to be one somehow. But I need to do first things first: Look at the past. Get into the business of serious hindsight. Find insight. Ever saint had a past and every sinner has a future.

But in the meantime, the present calls for insight, and today’s readings precisely give us precious tips on this regard. For those who have both insight and foresight, it is well worth remembering this: “he shall surely live; he shall not die.!

Saturday, September 20, 2014


25th Sunday Year A
September 21, 2014


Being late is a daily occurrence in the country where I was born, grew up in, and still chose to live in. Our culture was never a stickler for details like being on time, to start with. Time and space, like everything else, is considered relative, not absolute values, in our culture. We are a postmodern people living out certain values of a pre-modern setting. Those invited to parties are told to come at 8:00 PM, for example, but guests are really too early if they get to their place at 9:00 PM. Waterways, called “esteros” once upon a time, dotted the urban landscape decades or aeons ago, but are now nowhere to be found all over the bustling metropolis, covered over by so-called “developers” who did more than just develop the city. They enveloped everything, including those esteros with sellable “prime properties” for the unwary real estate buyers.

Time seems not to be the best ally of the ASEAN integration policy planners especially now that the ten countries that make it up are poised to launch an integrated ASEAN by 2015. We are late. As usual. And not one of the 10 countries seems to be ready for it. As yet. As expected … least of all, the Philippines, which is a laggard in just about all the major areas of concern, including the capacity to curb corruption, despite all the furious sloganeering being bandied about in the last 4 and ½ years!

Being late is not, and has never been a virtue. It may be reflecting a cultural value for us, but it will never become a virtue.

But today’s Gospel passage seems to be delivering an altogether different story. The Johnny-come-Latelies seemed to have been given an edge over those who started working promptly at 8:00 AM! The whole parable flies in the face of common sense and common practice in this rat-race world. You need show up on time, despite the MRT long lines (if it does not get derailed or overshoots the tracks!) despite the hopeless tangle of cars and trucks all over the metropolis, inching their way towards their destination during the wrongly named “rush hour!” (It all seems like that every day, at any given time, is rush hour in the Philippines!), and you need to take off from your desk on time (not the way they do it in government offices, where 3:00 PM is merienda time, and 3:45 is prep time for people to take off, job finished or not finished).

The Lord does not seem to be fair in this aspect. Those laborers who started doing the work early had a point. Those who complained that they got exactly the same as those who got in late had more than just a point. Has the Lord become relative, too, like the Filipinos, who think of time and space as relative, not absolute, values? Has the Lord gone the way of the PDAF and DAP conceptualists and planners who suddenly decided the “just” and “proper” way to do is to skirt around moral principles and reduce rightness and wrongness to the issue of “good intentions” – no matter the means, no matter the consequences, no matter the objective rightness or wrongness of the deed itself?

But the Lord, in His wisdom, does have a powerful point too. And the point is not the relativity or stretchability of something that is eminently countable, quantifiable, and measurable. The point has to do with something whose measure is precisely to operationalize it, to actualize it and to fulfill it without measure. It has to do with love, and the measure of love is to love without measure!

God knows how many times I have been late for things. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t “shine” (sort of!) until I was well into my early adulthood. I have experienced being late in submitting requirements in school, and being late for appointments for the simple reason that, being a homebody, I could not calculate properly how much time to give for travel from point A to point B. But being late is not synonymous with being lousy, at least not all the time.

Being late could also mean not having the means, not only to come on time, but to come up with what the world of convention imposes as requirements. Being late could also mean not being up to par with conditions that one could never reasonably be expected to have. Being late could also mean not having the wherewithal to hoist oneself up a high horse, to boot oneself, to propel oneself and take care of oneself alone by one’s lonesome self … when one is totally helpless and yet required to play the game in a non-level playing field.

In God’s definition today, being late could also mean being loved more and favored more, for as our great Ramon Magsaysay put it decades ago, “those who have less in life should have more in law.” Being late, but being loved nonetheless is what this Sunday’s gospel story is all about. And that love is not earned like you earn SM Advantage points! No one has an innate claim to that love like one deserves points for charging purchases against your credit card.

Those who came in late afternoon had no other task to work on. Neither did they deserve to be given a job to do and a commensurate salary like the others who began toiling early. But when it comes to God, no one of us has a right to impose our man-made values and conditions on Him.

Today, we allow God to be God. Today, too, we allow Him to treat us with love abounding, and allow Him to approach this same love without subjecting Him to our pusillanimous and narrow-minded conditions. For in the final analysis, all of us, apart from having been late so many times for any petty human activity, really do not deserve to be treated prodigally by a compassionate God, whose mercy is His justice, and whose justice is also His overwhelming love, particularly for those who do not seem to deserve it.

Late, yes … but loved nonetheless! This is great news for each and every one of us!

Friday, September 12, 2014


Feast of the Triumph of the Cross
(24th Sunday Year A)
September 14, 2014


We always feel right when we complain. Whenever we feel aggrieved, we always have a sense of entitlement. And we tend to be very vocal – even, vociferous – about it. Take the case of the Israelites. One day they were excited to leave their hell-hole; another day they were angry at being caught in the little pigeonhole of their uncomfortable desert meandering. And boy, did they raise hell for Moses as they hollered: “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?”

But the very same man they blamed was the man they begged assistance from. They thought better of him when they were in dire straits … when their lives were threatened by something far worse than not having meat or spices to tickle their choosy palates – serpents! And then, when they started falling down like flies smitten by those deadly and abominable reptiles, they cried for clemency.

The bitter complaints were met by sweet compassion. The lack of tolerance they showed was matched by God’s ultimate long-suffering patience and unconditional positive regard – with an instant antigen to boot! God had a saraph mounted on a pole, and all those bitten could look up to it for dear salvation.

The world of human affairs tries to be very logical. The world of business, in particular, follows the strict logic of exchange. Strict rules of commutative justice keep the economic forces alive, and the wheels of business-strictly-for-profit grinding. Markets don’t go by the logic of compassion. Complaints need to be dealt with with dispatch, not dilly-dallying hesitation and vacillation.

Today, however, we are face-to-face with a different logic. Benedict XVI calls it the logic of love, as against the logic of exchange. Whilst he used the phrase when talking about macro-economic realities and extolled the beauty and virtues of a logic of communion as against the logic of competition, the same illogical “logic” might as well apply to today’s feast – the triumph of the Cross!

Yes! When it comes to today’s feast, the first word that comes to mind is “illogical.” There is no rhyme nor reason to what it refers to – Christ’s ignominious and painful death on the cross.

Just draw from your very own experience … Isn’t it true that when someone pulls a fast one on you, you try your best to outdo him and even out scores? For men who read this now, isn’t it true that if someone cuts you on the road, your tendency is to nose up and speed up and cut him, too, at the next opportunity? A worse logic is in operation here – the logic of tit-for-tat … the logic of “I’ll-show-you-what-I-am-capable-of.”

Today, God shows us what God is more than just capable of … In fact, he tells us what stuff He is made of, and what stuff we, too, ought to be fashioned of. And it has nothing to do with the logic of loathing and hatred and revenge. It has to do with the logic of lowliness: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.”

The human logic of tit-for-tat was transformed to the seemingly illogical logic of life through death, love from hatred, lauds from loathing, and glory from ignominy. This was the logic of the cross, whose paradoxical triumph we now celebrate and extol.

I need to quiet down today. All of me revolts with anger and sadness at the illogicality of it all … the senseless painful deaths suffered at the hands of jihadists and terrorists … the merciless sending of entire villages and clans and ethnic groups to cruel exile, for many of them only to die slow deaths due to exposure and starvation.

But in tears, despite tears and because of the same tears, I see a little bit more clearly. And what do I see? The compassionate and merciful Lord, whose logic of love and forgiveness belied the seeming defeat of Him, on account of whom “every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

And this, ultimately, is what lies beyond the seemingly blatant lack of human short-sighted logic, and for good reason that reason itself may not know of: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that he who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Saturday, September 6, 2014


23rd Sunday Year A
September 7, 2014


One of the goals of the ASEAN region, all ten countries that make it up, is to provide “a caring community.” Well, they still have a few months, before the AEC (Asean Economic Community) goes into full operation in the year 2015. By any standard, this is more than just a nice phrase to describe one of the three pillars of the ASEAN dream – PEOPLE ( in addition to PROSPERITY and PEACE)!

But of course, given the three readings in today’s liturgy, it is easy to realize that it is not just a pipe dream of ASEAN, but a command from the Lord, repeated not twice, but thrice, in all three readings.

Ezekiel gives the opening salvo. We are all meant to be “watchmen (or guardians) for the house of Israel.” As watchmen, we are expected to warn, admonish, counsel, or otherwise mentor others who might be straying off the beaten track.

St. Paul, writing to the Romans, echoes the same call to responsibility: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” for “love is the fulfilling of the law.”

But the Lord goes notches higher in this solicitude for others in his call to engage in fraternal correction and to convocation in God’s name.

I don’t mean to douse cold water on ASEAN’s big dream, but the call to be a caring community, whilst laudable and doable, is a most difficult and daunting challenge in our postmodern times. It was most difficult, then – during Biblical times – as it is now. The, it was the Philistines who terrorized the Israelites. Now, it is the modern-day terrorists and free-thinkers and cultists who make life difficult for mainstream Christians who only want to live in peace.

The easiest thing to do then – as now – is to go the way of indifference and insouciance … to be totally uncaring and to numb oneself into behaving like whatever one does will come to naught and will produce no good results whatsoever. This is what most educated Filipinos do in our times. They have lost faith in the electoral process and so refuse to go out and vote anymore. They have resigned themselves to believing that, after all, the uneducated and showbiz crazed hoi polloi will put the same nincompoops (inutile, corrupt and incompetent, but eminently popular) into the top offices of the land. They have given up the dream of a bunch of honorable statesmen who would still hold the reins of power, instead of electing what turns out to be nothing more than honorable thieves who only revel in honorific titles.

Today, like in the times of Ezekiel, as in the times of the Lord and of Paul, we are reminded by God that “a caring community” is not just a dream of ASEAN, but a standing command from no less than Him. He calls us to responsibility. He beckons us to genuine caring and love that is meant to be given at all costs, for “love does no evil to the neighbor.” He rouses us to shun impatience and rash judgment, to value fraternal correction, and also to observe due process, and not to take the law into our hands. “If he doesn’t listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

But all this would not only be difficult and most challenging. It would also be close to impossible, were it not for the promise the Lord proffers to us today – the promise of His abiding, solicitous and loving presence: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Thank you, Lord, for your command and your consoling promise!