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Friday, January 31, 2014

LIKE US IN ALL; LIGHT FOR US ALL!


The Presentation of the Lord (A)
February 2, 2014

LIKE US IN ALL; LIGHT FOR US ALL!

It’s Candlemas today … Candelaria in our Pinoy popular religious culture. People, a dwindling few admittedly, will bring candles today to have them blessed. For some those blessed candles will be used to light up their little altars at home as they pray. For some others, they will be put away, kept in reserve for some unplanned and unforeseen affair of a religious nature.

But my task is not to talk about candles. People seldom make use of them now, as rechargeable and solar lamps seem to flood the market. Why, even Churches now seldom make use of real candles with wax as sancturay lamps. Paraffin oil is now more like it for most of them.

My task is not to talk today about candles because candles are not the focus of today’s feast, but what the candles stand for.

But first, a word on the three readings, in the hope that it can shed light on the issue of LIGHT which is what Candelaria (Candlemas) is all about.

First, Malachi the prophet is obscure in many ways, but clear in a specific way. He is definitely clear about one thing that juts out like a bright incandescent bulb on a moonless, dark, night in a typhoon-ravaged place where the promised electrical power remains … well, an unfulfilled promise – the prophecy that the promised Messiah would one day “come to the temple of the Lord.”

The clarity of that prophecy was made even clearer by the Gospel report of Luke, the careful writer with a scientific flair for important details. The parents, Mary and Joseph, did what was prescribed by the Law and brought the child Jesus “to present him to the Lord,” and for them to be purified, particularly the mother whose womb was opened by giving birth to a male child.

Mary and Joseph did what was prescribed and thus the predictable thing. They presented him to the Lord. And this was where and when the unexpected and the unpredictable happened. Malachi was apparently not alone in prophesying something important for the people of God. Some other guy, who was not expected to be one, did what no one predicted and expected. He prophesied.

But I am getting ahead of the story …

The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus in most ordinary terms. He was like us in all things. He was “blood and flesh.” “He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God.”

He was like us in all things … exactly like you and me, and the hordes of honorables this country loves to boast of, along with the dishonorables that this same country is ashamed of, both titles belonging, sadly, to the very same names and faces that mainstream media loves to adulate.

But great things are fashioned by God out of ordinary mortals, made of ordinary human stuff. David … Jeremiah … Elizabeth … Zechariah … Joseph the carpenter … Mary the unknown lass prior to the annunciation … There was that old man, Simeon by name. Well, to start with, he was old. Do I hear useless and irrelevant? Maybe! But not for God! Hey, the Holy Spirit who sent the archangel to an ordinary unknown girl knew whom to tap and whom to make use of. “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.”

This old man, probably unable to carry even his own weight, drew strength from his belief and conviction and “took him into his arms and blessed God.”

Yes, the old man carried the boy Jesus and prayed a prayer of praise and happy good-bye: “You may now let your servant go in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

The child, like unto us in all things, was then revealed to be LIGHT FOR US ALL IN EVERY WAY – “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

Hold on to your simple seemingly meaningless candles, folks! It’s not about the candles, but about what they stand for. They stand for LIGHT, for Christ the Light of all nations, the light of our salvation, the light that pierced through the darkness, no matter how ordinary, how simple, how powerless and position-less; no matter how weak, how insignificant and lowly.

It took an obscure Malachi to forewarn people about him. It took a weak, decrepit old man made strong and solid by his faith to see behind the lowliness and simplicity and powerlessness of the bundle of emerging salvation that the child was. It took one with a powerful interior light of faith to see the incipient, unfolding light that the child was becoming for all men and women of good will, for all the world who lived in darkness.

Some famous writer cautioned us never to sweat the small stuff. Simeon, Malachi, and the letter writer to the Hebrews all tell us never to underestimate the seemingly small and insignificant. Today, be attentive to small stuff like candles. Hold them high. Carry them. Present them to the Church and to the Lord. Have them blessed. But in the process, remember … They stand for something higher. They stand for the LIGHT that we all long for, surrounded as we all are by the darkness of unbelief and sin.

Today is Candlemas … Candelaria … the day we remember the presentation of the Lord. But with the presentation of the Lord came the promised Light, whose mission was “to expiate the sins of the people.”

Father,  thank you for sending us your Son. His coming brought us the promised salvation. Thank you for making Him like us in all things, but most of all, thank you for making Him the LIGHT of us all, in all things.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

MAKE A CLEAN BREAK; FACE THE CHALLENGE!


Third Sunday Year A
January 26, 2014

MAKE A CLEAN BREAK; FACE THE CHALLENGE!

Isaiah once more hogs the headlines today. He reports of good things taking place, of light dawning bright once more to places once in gloom: Zebulun and Naphtali. We heard the prophecy not once but at least twice during, or towards the Christmas season.

Mathew prophesies not, but reports, a fact – the factual and actual fulfillment of what Isaiah could only speak about prospectively. The Lord left his childhood village and went to Capernaum, in the environs of Zebulun and Naphtali, once forlorn and forgotten places of no major consequence.

Peter and Andrew, James and John could as well have been what Zebulun and Naphtali were like – inconsequential, unknown, and uncelebrated. Once upon a time, students flocked to teachers and revered mentors and jockeyed for the closest position to their masters and gurus. But Matthew tells us otherwise. The Master called the twin duos. We are told that the Master who called was immediately followed. The four made a clean double-breasted break: with family and livelihood. They left not only their father, but also their fishing nets and all.

When was the last time you did a similar thing? I remember being told to do things as a child very often. I used to hem and haw, bargain and beg, plead and pestered to be given a break, to be left alone. Children might be cute and cuddly up to a certain point, but parents then sure had a Calvary experience telling us what to do and telling us what not to do – at any given time. We either obeyed, or we delayed. And when we did obey, heaven knows, it was neither immediate, nor prompt.

It was always hard to break from whatever it was we enjoyed doing at the moment. I swear it was not chores. No one enjoyed fetching water. No one considered chopping firewood as enjoyable as the computer games of the internet pioneers of our times. It was hard to part with our imaginary games where everyone wanted to be Vic Morrow and Ric Jason, or Batman and Robin, or for the older ones, the famed Flash Gordon … or, let’s fast forward a few more years, make it Superman!

When Mom or Dad called, our response was never immediate. It was always something like, “later,” or “yes, I will,” but with a heavy heart and pounding feet. It was hard to make a clean break of something we loved to do.

Today, third Sunday of Ordinary Time, I would like to think that discipleship is not so much doing what the Lord tells us, first and foremost. Discipleship as the readings would have us understand, is first of all, hearing, listening, and then making a clean break of everything and everyone … and then some!

Let me tell you what is so hard now to break away from …

There’s pride, for one … We simply love to stick it out and hold on to our own ideas. There’s racism and ethnocentrism for another … We love to take sides and root for our own preferred groups or personages. Now it’s yellow; now it’s green … Now it’s Peter; now it’s Paul. We are often not united in just about anything. Like in the times of the Corinthians, there are rivalries among [us] … There are those who belonged to Paul, and those who belonged to Apollos.

Our politics of the dysfunctional kind, as ever, leads us to be so divided into camps, and in many cases, such divisions into groups could only best be explained by what we get in return for misplaced loyalties – perks or positions; rewards whether material or psychic, but hardly ever on the basis of principles and moral convictions.

The lesson of today’s readings seems to be limpid clear … The Lord does not call us to belong to camps, political or otherwise. He calls us to life … to salvation … And He called individuals to spearhead the movement. They were called disciples. They were told to “come and follow.”

And following did not mean hemming and hawing. Being disciples meant, right from the start, making a double-breasted clean break: from family and livelihood; from the cradle of love, and from the crest of financial independence … from the surety of being cared for, as from the surety of being materially well taken care of.

Now, this is exactly like being taken away from war games that we knew back then … being told to come back to the world of reality, and turn away from the imaginary world of military victories, between Japs and Allies, with the likes of Vic Morrow and Ric Jason as our perfect battle-tested strategists and warriors.

After being a priest for more than 30 years now, I must confess … It is hard to be a disciple. It is easy to be called or believe oneself called. But it is quite another to make a clean break of everything and everyone, and leave all, for the sake of the kingdom.

But priests like us are not alone in this. You, too, my lay readers are not off the hook. You, too, are called. You, too, are sent. And for you to go and become disciples yourselves, you need, too, to make a clean break, and face up to the challenges that lie ahead.

Take it from Paul … He did more than just baptize. “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.”

Did you get that? He spoke of the cross … not computer games and virtual challenges. They are real, not virtual. Make a clean break, and face the challenge! This is what discipleship is.


Sacred Heart Novitiate
Lawaan, Talisay City
Cebu
January 23, 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014

CHRISTMAS JOY; CHRISTIAN ACTION

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Feast of the Santo Nino (A)
January 19, 2014

ECHOES OF CHRISTMAS JOY; 
REPERCUSSIONS OF CHRISTIAN ACTION




It’s simply more fun in the Philippines in many ways. If one leaves aside the one-too-many tragedies that happen one after another, you can’t argue against the fact that we do know not only how to party, but also how to extend something beautiful much longer than the rest of the world. For one, our Christmas is the longest in the world. Broken apart only by the Feast of the Black Nazarene, most of us go out once again to party on just the week after, to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Child, the Santo Nino.

It is not fun, though, to be caught up in a frenzy of misguided fanaticism … when even the center, summit and most important activity of all – the Holy Mass – is cut short by fanaticism gone wild and raucous as to stop the Mass midstream.

It is not fun, too, when non-thinking crowds lose all good sense and trample on everything underfoot solely because those things had the unfortunate lot of being caught in the path of a stampede of a procession, leaving tons of trash and untold destruction behind.

But I am digressing …

Today is a day of honest-to-goodness, clean and wholesome spiritual fun. Why so? It is good news that echoes the joys of Christmas: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light … For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.”

I am sure you have experienced how fun it is to be playing with echoes. Enter a cavernous empty Church, say something aloud, and hear the echo reverberate. I am sure you would do it over and over again. In my younger climbing days, we used to do it on the peaks of certain mountains. It feels good to hear the sound of your own voice reverberating in the great void in between mountain walls.

But is the Feast of the Santo Nino merely echoes of bygone days? Is today’s feast a mere refrain in the musical piece of life that gets replayed once each year and not much more beyond, and not much else besides? Is the Feast of the Santo Nino simply a fun way to be Filipinos, replete with dancing, shouting, making a wild ruckus with drums and bugle and brass instruments? Partying is something we Filipinos are now learning to be best at! Why, even election days are occasions to party and frolic! And we are not satisfied with just 12 days of Christmas. We have got much more … and a day of extension to boot … today!

As a priest and preacher, teacher, pastor and minister, I would like to think the Lord is not happy with us just having fun of the partying kind. I would like to think all that fanaticism that is both destructive and disruptive, is not the way to go for all that fun to go up to the level of deep, sincere, real, good, clean, and honest spiritual fun.

And the Santo Nino himself shows us the way – the path of simplicity, seeming weakness and powerlessness … the path of humility, the ways of fun that is not just coming from utter abandon and wanton disregard for what is right, honorable, respectable, and worthy of honor and praise.

The Santo Nino is popular precisely because the little child does not call on everyone to simply wax sentimental and be shallow in one’s emotional attachment to a helpless child. No … the Santo Nino calls on everyone to grow exactly like him, in age and in wisdom …

The way the Santo Nino is celebrated in Cebu and many other places is not reducible to shallow fun and frolic. It begins and ends with prayer for a full nine days before, and capped with a well-attended procession. Fanaticism gives way to devotion; and prayer leads the way towards a joyful dignified celebration. As it is meant to be … as the Lord Himself would have us do.

The disciples’ question in today’s gospel has to do with greatness. “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”

He answered the curious question … with a live teaching aid, no less … He called a child over and says: “unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

By all means, let us all be childlike, not childish and churlish. Let us find joy and rejoice at the great gift of this child who grew in age and in wisdom in the sight of God and men.

It is more fun for those who understand that real joy, the godly type of unalloyed joy, is a whole lot more than just having worldly and shallow fun. And all that fun is not just echoes of Christmas rejoicing, but repercussions of mature Christian action. We need, like Christ did, to grow in age and in wisdom.  And real, honest-to-goodness fun lies on being like a child, “whose angels in heaven always look upon the face of the heavenly Father.”

Monday, January 6, 2014

RUMORS?

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Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (A)
January 12, 2014

N.B. I will be embarking on a long journey by land to Eastern Samar to do an errand of charity so I am posting this well in advance. Happy new year to everyone!

RUMORS?



Soren Kierkegaard had an interesting insight about knowing and behaving according to what one might know. If there were people who knew all about where the Messiah was to be born, they had to be the experts, the learned, the scribes … those who knew the law and had it in their finger tips. They knew everything there was to know. But they did not budge a single inch from where they stood, perched on the pinnacle of indifference and unconcern.



In contrast, the Magi only heard a rumor. But it was enough to make them go for the journey of a lifetime, in search of the rumored newborn king. They moved. They searched for him with might and main, even risking the ire of a jealous, insecure king, who also searched for the boy, but for different reasons.



Today, our own version of rumors get an astounding confirmation. Even Isaiah foresaw it: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased.”



But these are not mere empty rumors without bases. These are pieces of good news vouched for and guaranteed by no less than He who can neither deceive nor be deceived.



The Bible calls it a testimony, an act of witnessing – something that happens when one stands for a truth and stands by someone else about whom he witnesses for. This testimony was done by John the Baptist. First, he did by negating: “I am not the Christ.” Second, he did the same by affirming: “Someone else greater than me is coming.” “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world.”



Today, rumors become testimonies and testimonies become manifestations of something bigger, something greater, something nobler. It was something worth the while of God the Father Himself to proclaim and confirm: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”



All this in a day’s work for the precursor, the forerunner, John the Baptist, who did the baptism of the Lord he pointed out to amidst the crowds. A rumor has just become a compelling message, a confounding piece of good news, a convincing command from above: “Follow him.”



The Lord was baptized. He who was manifested in the flesh as divine at the Epiphany is now presented fully for who He is, for the world, for us, for me and you. And it has nothing to do with mere whispers utttered tentatively in hushed tones, empty rumors of something or about someone that does not satisfy shallow show business related curiosity.



The Baptism of the Lord is a compelling message becoming an equally compelling invitation to “come and listen, and follow and obey.”



Whispers from below need not be followed. But rumors from angels and from above need to be listened to. Thus was Isaiah’s convincing lines. So, too, was John the Baptist’s compelling command: “Behold!” “See!” “Look!”



For all their learnings and expertise, the Scribes missed the facts. They were waiting for the Messiah with detailed maps in hand and equally detailed instructions at the back of their minds. But they missed him when he came. But the Magi only had rumors and they moved and set out on a journey of search.



I guess there is a big difference between merely hearing the stale and static command to “know” and the command followed by Isaiah, by Paul, by John the Baptist and everyone else who set out in search for Him … “behold,” “see” and “look!”



The Scribes were satisfied in just knowing. The followers of John the Baptist did something more. The magi did something more. On the strength of what they knew and heard, they also moved out in search. Blessed are those who seek, for they will find.



Behold the Lamb of God! Behold him who takes away the sins of the world! This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!




Saturday, January 4, 2014

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE WISE AND THE DISCERNING


Epiphany Sunday
January 5, 2014

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE WISE AND THE DISCERNING

Isaiah was profuse in joy a-coming: “See, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, dakrness covers the earth and thick clouds the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines.” Isaiah, too, was wise. He said wise things and foretold the coming of caravans and dromedaries “bearing gold and frankincense.”

The psalmist was emphatic in his wise prophecies, too: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” But Paul, in his own right, was also wise about what he discovered late in his life: “the mystery was made known to me by revelation … that the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

I have doubts, however, whether the Magi were as wise as Matthew appears to have reported they were. They were worldly-wise, to be sure. They knew how to read maps and astrological signs. They could see a potential ruler of some kind in the signs they saw arising, as to travel really far just to pay the child of Bethlehem homage. But they apparently had little EQ. Their emotional quotient was way off. They failed to see the sinister plans a-brewing in the fertile – though anxious and paranoid – mind of Herod.

Hey, Herod was wise, too! He knew how to spot a potential threat. He knew how to plot, plan, and pretend he had the welfare of the child in mind. He even knew how to put the “wise” men in his employ and gave them marching orders to do a Sherlock Holmes, if you please, and that ever gentle plea of a command cum threat: “Would you please tell us where the child is, when you find him?” This was almost like as if Herod was saying to them: “I can’t wait to do homage to my “little bossing” (my little Master), so please show me where to find him.”

Wise men say. Wise men plan. Wise men hatch things up come what may, happen what might. Our country the Philippines is full of such wise men. They are so wise they plan for elections at least three years in advance. They are so wise they get NGOs working full time, with full resources, with full financial resources and funding.

But they get nothing done. Well, not exactly … They do get some palatial homes of legislators done in record time. And did we mention about faked, unexplained signatures that somehow translated into hundreds of millions going missing on the strength of such signatures?

Wise men say. Wise men do a show-and-tell. This was what Isaiah did. And so did Jeremiah, and Amos, and Ezekiel. They tell it like it is. But even wiser men know what to say and when to say it. Like the corrupt kings of Israel, who consorted with strange and foreign gods and turned them into idols. They walked out on the real God who revealed and showed Himself with His mighty deeds!

Wiser men know how to turn problems into opportunities. Wise, but ultimately clueless magi from the east were simply out to make a touristic jaunt with a twist of a pilgrimage to pay homage to one they believed had the future in his hands. But some wiser fox turned them into drones – with the order to go out in search for the paranoid King’s most wanted child dead or alive, preferably deader than dead!

Wise men say. Wise men do. But today, the feast of the Epiphany, saying and doing must be based on seeing the right things and seeing them rightly for what they are.

It is not wisdom to only say the right things. I don’t become a good priest just because I can cook up a good homily in no time … “Look Ma! … no singing; no dancing!” Nor is it wisdom to only do the right things. Herod was darn right about nipping a problem in the bud. Cut it out before it takes root. Kill the boy before he can tell the difference between being a lowly carpenter and being a much-sought-after chairman of the Board. Or a King, for that matter!

No, I’d much rather be discerning dutifully and deciding rightly! The old saying says “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Fools do not discern rightly, and because of this, they also don’t decide rightly.

Today, Solemnity of the Epiphany, is a day dedicated to wise men: men who say the right things and men who also do the right things. Both are not necessarily the best thing, when seen from the point of view of God. Managers, they say, do the right things; and leaders do them rightly.

We have a plethora of them in and out of government. We have self-proclaimed wise men, wiser than Herod, everytime elections come around, but they are just as equally, if not more corrupt, than Herod. How else explain the fact that we still the sick man of Asia in more ways than one? And that we are among the highest in corruption in all the world?

We need to take things notches higher … We need to be more than wise. We need to be discerning. We need to see beyond what people say and promise, and go beyond mere show-business acumen, and potential to become the next heart-stopper idol of the ignorant masses.

Isaiah did it. St. Paul clinched it. The Magi, though not street-wise, eventually saw beyond the ruse of the brilliant, but scheming Herod. They took the path less travelled by. They changed route back home. And that spelled the difference between the worldly wise and the spiritually wise. They discerned well and decided accordingly.

And the glory of the Lord shone upon the world, forever and ever!