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Friday, February 21, 2014

SPEAK TO ALL AND TELL THEM LIKE IT IS!



7th Sunday Year A
February 23, 2014

SPEAK TO ALL AND TELL THEM LIKE IT IS!

Almost everything now attracts controversy. You say your piece and you are immediately branded as liberal, conservative, out of touch with the times, medieval, a bigot, a clerico-fascist, a wimp, stupid, an ignoramus, etc. Labels abound in this image-conscious world that always seeks for convenient compromises (read: a position that tries to please everyone, but ends up satisfying no one).

St. Paul today refers to one that he probably was called as such so many times after his conversion. He was branded a “fool.” A fool was apparently one who did not agree with the popular vote, who went against the tide of public opinion. Let me give you one issue that was, and still is, popular … “Kill the bastards!” people now say about heinous criminals. Then, as now, revenge is mistaken for retribution. “An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.” So said the Old Law!  So what is wrong with the old law? Why fix something if it ain’t broke?

But today, the Lord does fix something for our ultimate good. He goes beyond retribution. He goes far beyond revenge; even far beyond strict justice. He preaches the truth about who He is, ultimately, and what we ought to become, too. And what he counsels us is to be holy just as the Lord is holy.

The issue of sacredness of human life is as fractious and divisive now as the issue about mining, climate change, and the use of non-renewable energy sources. One cannot open one’s mouth without attracting haters and naysayers, and mind you, haters are becoming more odious by the day, in their language, choice of words, and tone.

But Christian morality, the issue of objective rightness or wrongness of any human act, is not to be identified with either liberalism or conservatism; not with any ideology or economic doctrine. Moral truth has nothing to do with political expediency or political color.

And the issue of life is of paramount importance in today’s liturgy. This much, the first reading today tells us: love is not an ideology nor an economic doctrine. Revenge is not part of the discussion on love. I know it sounds strange and foolish as this has nothing to do with popular perception and acclamation in our times. You are a fool if you don’t cancel out all criminals, real or potential; in the present or in the future.

But wisdom from above tells us that we all are temples of God, and that our bodies and our lives are considered sacred, no matter if pro-choice people choose their bodies only, over that of others, including and most especially bodies of unborn or just born children who cannot yet vote in favor of their survival.

We who value life must really be fools. There are just too many people in the world now. They all threaten to lower the quality of life. The “wise” thing to do is to drastically lessen people by killing them or, at the very least, preventing them from becoming fully grown people, except that no one of us now, who think that way, would ever volunteer to be the first whose life ought to be forcibly taken against my will.

An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth … That must have been a great improvement then! At least the whole clan or whole family tree won’t have to die on account of sweet revenge. But today, the Lord does not want mere improvements or cosmetic changes. The Lord wants to replace all this hatred and spirit of revenge with what ultimately would benefit all of humanity – the commandment of Love. Love goes beyond mere retribution, and definitely trumps all forms of revenge. Love means going positive … going the extra mile … praying for one’s enemies … loving even those who persecute you.

Now, I assure you, this is a tall order. This, too, is difficult. Is this possible at all?
Good question! The world has been asking the same question for ages. I have been asking myself this question so often, for if I may rant righteously, I would like to say that the world isn’t fair … Life isn’t fair. And nice girls finish last while good boys seldom make it to the top of the heap. The worldly wise with all their strategy of cutting corners and all, do get closer to the top. The really wise in the Biblical sense, chances are, won’t get anywhere near the coveted top.

But hey! This is what discipleship is all about … becoming fools for Christ’s sake, and getting a stake on rewards that are simply out of this world! Which do you choose?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

IF YOU SO CHOOSE!


6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
February 16, 2014

IF YOU SO CHOOSE …

It is hard to see the connection … Wisdom is not associated with rules and commandments. The Scribes and Pharisees were definitely learned people, by the standards in operation then.  They were the equivalent of today’s illuminati, the few, the privileged and the titled. Who would not want to count among the then society’s elite?

But today’s readings would have us look beyond titles and degrees: stuff that eyes do not readily see, nor ears so quickly hear about. Just look at what goes on repeatedly in our country. It pays to hover around higher circles, and to hobnob with people walking in the corridors of power. Big time thieves and crooks rubbing shoulders with “honorable” men and women in all three branches of government change colors from being plain thieves to being whistleblowers, to being heroes, all in a matter of a few years, or a few months, or even a few weeks.

They are definitely not your run-of-the-mill diploma holder. They are wise beyond doubt,  street-wise perhaps, but brilliant in ways that ordinary people like us may never be able to fully understand.

But these same ordinary people are the object of today’s teachings. That happens to be you and I. And in very simple terms this is what the teachings are all about …

First in the list from Sirach is that we all have the power to choose. Yes, if we choose to, we can “keep the commandments.” If we choose to, we can pursue that which leads to life, not death. Just look at us … We can choose to arrive on time for a concert or a gig that we all like, but we can also half-heartedly choose to arrive late for Mass.

Secondly, and this is from Paul who writes to the fractious and fragmented Corinthians … we can also choose to be worldly wise or acquire wisdom from above – God’s Wisdom – and choose to look and see “what eye has not seen, and ear has not heard.” We can choose to follow the well trodden path or that which no one has dared to tread. We can choose to follow the bandwagon, or follow the beatings of a different drummer.

Third, and most importantly, this ultra worldly wisdom means to go beyond what the world ordinarily values and appreciates. The Lord counsels us to go beyond the earthly wisdom of the Scribes and the Pharisees. It means to pursue something higher, greater, and nobler.

The Gospel teaching today speaks of three things that are closest to our experience: anger, lust, and truth-telling. I don’t know about you, but I am very familiar with anger. I get angry very often at just about anything, big or small. Who does not feel angered at the dawning realization that we are being taken for a ride by people who love to call themselves “honorable?” Who among us have not burned with illegitimate passion  for the forbidden fruit of our sensual desires? Who among us have not been tempted to run away from truth that is not convenient, or truth that puts us on the hot seat?

We are face to face with our sinful nature everyday. We are always on the uphill climb, always struggling to reach the summit, not of our earthly desires, but of God’s dream for each and everyone of us. Even when we sin, theologians and philosophers tell us, we actually are trying to address, albeit mistakently, that deeply embedded desire for the ultimate, for the highest, for the utmost – for God!

I love today’s readings. They touch the core of my humanity – broken by original and personal sin (all my own, not that of others), but called to the heights, called to become the best I can potentially be, by God’s will.

I love and appreciate my humanity. I am not rotten to the core, helpless and hopeless in my weakness, but strengthened and encouraged by one who became exactly how and what I am, like unto us in all things except sin – Jesus Christ!

I still get angry, but I know I am not called to remain in my anger, and still more, not to give in to my anger and act it out indiscriminately and irrespective of others’ feelings and welfare. I still fall prey to my own unbridled desires and selfish tendencies, but I am also called to give of myself and my best and to rise above my selfish tendencies. I still struggle at times to tell the truth, while keeping in mind telling the same in charity, and with no tinge of malice towards anyone.

It is hard. It is hard to keep one’s emotions in check, especially when one knows deep in one’s heart that justice remains a pipe dream for all of us sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.

But today, this is what I hear and this is what I tell … You can do it. We can clinch it. And all it takes is the conviction that we all can do it, if we so choose to. Ours is the choice. Ours is the decision. And ours, too, is the promise of the Lord: “The eyes of God are on those who fear him.”




Friday, February 7, 2014

NOT ON HUMAN WISDOM, BUT ON THE POWER OF GOD!


5th Sunday Year A
February 9, 2014


NOT ON HUMAN WISDOM, BUT ON THE POWER OF GOD

Today is some kind of a repeat of Candlemas. All three readings speak of light, as against gloom; wisdom from above as distinct from earthly human power; and about shining brightly for the world to see. It is about having the courage to be seen and recognized as such, by a world that, even up until our times, has been “walking in darkness.” But the Gospel passage adds another metaphor for discipleship – that of being salt for the earth.

The readings, therefore, talk about being visible, and being flavorful; being seen and being tasty; being real and being effective.

You’ve seen the likes so often in life … fixtures that add beauty and form, but serve no real usable purpose; museum pieces that are good to look at, but which offer no real practical use to no one; artifacts that give a clue to something in the past, but which does not make life any better for anybody here and now. Ok, let us push it a little more … leaders who are mere figureheads; honorables who do nothing more than sign papers to manifest their attendance at a meeting or hearing, but who are only good for ribbon cutting ceremonies; legislators who do not work at legislation but at distributing public funds to ghost NGOs … honorary degree holders whose only claim to any degree is the largesse their donated money meant to the university conferring such degree.

And let me add some more … teachers who don’t teach but eke out a living selling items to students; preachers (like me) who waste people’s time telling people what they want to hear; priests (like me again) who show people anything and anyone but the real God in their lives.

I talk of not being true to what one is; of not being the light that one should be. I talk of people who prefer darkness rather than light; of those who claim to be disciples but who are neither visible nor palpable; believers who claim to believe, but never really belong.

Does this not sound familiar to you at all? Honorables whose deeds are very simply the opposite of what they love people to call them? Leaders who are really being led by the noose by oligarchs and interested parties who have the moolah to make things work according to  their self-centered plans and agenda? Religious leaders who worry more about earthly things than they do about Godly and heavenly matters?

Does this not sound very real to you? That we all are in the same boat together, and that “there, but for the grace of God, go you and I?”

Light and salt. These two metaphors are what the Lord commands us to be. Light … We must show the world who and what we are, and show them with clarity and pride. But it is never enough. Isaiah gives concrete signs of what this all means: “Share your bread to the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.”

Light … This means not just being bloated with titles and taken up by the desired image, but accepting one’s finitude and even sinfulness: “”I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling.”

Salt … It means being more than just a fixture in the lives of others, but being truly and fully what we are all called to become: [I came] “with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

It is hard to see people making too many pretenses. It is hard to be a fake, and claiming to be one thing and then doing another. It is simply impossible for our country to go on being led by leaders who are really being led by unseen oligarchs and ideologues. It is hard for me as a priest and preacher to go on exhorting others to holiness and heroism, and then being the last to work on either or both.

Today, I come to you in weakness and trembling, too, like Paul. I confess my weakness and sinfulness to you my brothers and sisters. But I also come to you in faith, knowing that our mission is not something that comes from an elective position based on popularity, but on a vocation that comes from above.

And if may be allowed just one more time, let me repeat what the Lord tells us today … We are called to be light and salt; to be visible and palpable; to be real and authentic; to show and tell; teach and do; plead and lead, by example, “not on the power of human wisdom, but on the power of God.”