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Friday, March 28, 2014

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

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4th Sunday of Lent (A)
Laetare Sunday
March 30, 2014

LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION!



They say that among the top ten habits of unhappy people is to consistently be arguing with oneself whether to get up from bed each morning. They sigh. They whine. They groan and moan as they complain to themselves about the unfortunate need to rise up and – not shine, mind you – but to pine for what they are about to lose by leaving their beds.



Well, following closely behind this is to be expected … the penchant to look for someone to blame, to shame, to shout at, and point accusing fingers at. He could be the tricycle driver ahead of you; the jeepney driver, or the thoughtless, inconsiderate pedestrian blocking your path. Whoever it is, does not matter. Everyone is fair game to an unhappy person working himself to a frenzy looking for a fight.



The blind man in the gospel does not seem to fit the bill of such an unhappy person. Perhaps you could look at it this way … The disciples were a little in the dark wondering aloud about whose sin it was that made him blind. After answering their theology 101 query, the Lord immediately talked about something important – about the need to work while there is light, for “night is coming when no one can work.”



There is a tone of urgency in the Lord’s words. He did not elaborate on his verbal catechesis, but proceeded to do the catechesis in vivo, in action, in concrete. But first, like any virtuoso film director, the Lord needed to do the basics first: Lights! He did the miracle that was most needed, at that time, on that occasion, for those individuals who were much more in the dark than the man born blind ever was. After enlightening the minds of the confused disciples, he turned to the blind man and gave him sight. Let there be light! That is what the Lord did … He gave the blind man’s sight and led all the others around him to the light. “There is urgent work to do … and we need to do it while there is light!”



The cameras now were whirring. Everyone’s eyes were now focused on him. Camera! And the plot now thickens. Nosy Pharisees got into the picture and asked him questions designed not to ferret out truth, but to discredit the bearer of truth. And since they did not believe something so blatant and clear … since they would not see what is brilliantly obvious … since they preferred to live in the dark rather than see the light, the blind man sprang into action.



Action! Here is where we need to give it to the blind man. He saw much more than those who refused to see. He told them point blank: “He is a prophet.”



There was a time I dabbled in photography … many moons ago. During those days of real film, lighting was everything. If you got no sufficient light, and your lens wasn’t fast enough, or your film with no fast enough ISO/DIN/ASA ratings, you just had one option left – cut down on shutter speed. You need light to see. You need light to shoot. You need light to show anything to people for posterity.



But here’s something crucial. Once you get the light, you need to spring into action. You need to capture the moment. You need to do what you need to do while there is light.



The Holy Father, Pope Francis uses an interesting phrase for the common tendency to not do anything while waiting for the best conditions – diagnostic overload! Too much analysis can really lead to paralysis. He practically tells us to what Jesus himself told the disciples: “We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.”



Night is inevitably coming for all of us. The light of youth, of health, of physical strength will one day wane, sooner or later. There is a time for everything under the heavens, yes, the good book says, but time is not unlimited. There is a beginning, and an end to everything, and life as we know it in this world, and all its glories, are fast drifting away, as the same good book tells us.



The Lord pounced on this privileged moment of evangelization and catechized both the man born blind and those who preferred to remain in their blindness. He not only healed physical blindness. He also addressed the blatant spiritual blindness of those who would not believe.



I am no spring chicken anymore. Night will soon come for me and for many of us; some sooner, some later. But it will inevitably come. I only have this little window of time left, by God’s grace, to do what little I can do.



The Lord calls us to action. Here. Now. And this is what we all need to do in imitation of Him who said: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”



Light! Camera! Action!

Friday, March 21, 2014

COMING. COME. NOW

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3rd Sunday of Lent (A)
March 23, 2014

COMING. COME. NOW



The woman who came to Jesus at the well was not named. But hey, she had a title – and a reputation to boot!  Samaritan woman! What more could she ask? She was not named, but that didn’t mean she was not known! In fact, she was well known. Her reputation preceded her everywhere she went, and I have no reason to think Jesus did not know a thing or two about her.



Well, in point of fact, Jesus did know. He knew enough to put her off-guard and lead her to ask questions that were evasive, even non-sensical, with absolutely nothing to do with what the Lord was trying to gently explain to her.



Times, there are in anyone’s life when we’d rather ask academic or theoretical questions. These are moments when the painful truth sits so close to us and makes us uncomfortable. I hear and see such very often in social media. I post on help that should go the way of typhoon victims who suffered – four months ago, and after four months, are still suffering the neglect and incompetence of a callous government and people. I tell friends about what is needed, about what people would appreciate receiving, since they have literally almost nothing. But lo and behold, I see from nowhere – from among the lurkers who read and see my posts and see the pictures of help coming from people all over the world, and out from the blues, I see that question that is as theoretical as it is useless: “What can I do to help?”



A totally useless question, if ever there was one! Everyone is raring to give money or goods or help in the repacking, and here comes someone who see them all and asks me: “Can I donate? Of course, my 30 years as a priest tell me that those who want to help just help. Those who ask too many theoretical questions about which bank to park the money in, and where to buy the goods simply end up simply quarelling with others. They never give.



The Samaritan woman had some very interesting questions. She asked about right worship, when the discussion was about something more mundane and more apropos her life right then, that precisely merited the term, the “Samaritan woman!” But right worship was far easier to talk about than living with five different men, not necessarily at the same time, of course.



Moses, too, became rather impertinent. When he began to see and feel and touch the suffering out there in the desert, he asked: “Why did you take us out here in the wild?” “Is it so that I would die of thirst and everyone else with me?”



Today, the Lord corners us all in our impertinence, and in our seemingly infinite capacity for deflection. Where he speaks about water that would spring for ever, Moses and us, too, answer with a complaint phrased like a question. Where the Lord speaks about water to drink that will no longer lead to thirst, but would lead to spiritual timeless truths, the woman and us, go right back to earth and we ask him for water so we won’t ever need to fetch water again.



How dense we can be! How mundane and earthly! How insensitive! The Lord comes looking for us as sinners to be given compassion and mercy, and we ask him theological questions about who is doing the right worship and all!



There is reason for God, this time, to complain about us: “O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts!”



Harden not our hearts. When was the last time we softened down and ask him for his mercy and forgiveness? We don’t because we have all sorts of alibis and excuses, exactly like the honorable senathieves, not a single one of whom has accepted wrongdoing … exactly like each and everyone in power whose best defense is a best offense … like Eve and Adam did, by pointing fingers to the serpent, not themselves!



But today, our thirst for God is being quenched, by God Himself. He offered Moses water in the desert. He offered the woman water to drink, even if the woman saw nothing more than material earthly water. But not everyone had dead ears to God’s invitation. Paul, once known as rabid Saul heard and listened. Now he tells us: “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith we are judged righteous and at peace with God, since it is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace in which we can boast about looking forward to God’s glory.”



We should also sit down by the well and listen … with the heart, not with the mind. And the Lord has got great news for us: The hour is coming! The hour has come!



And let me end with the best message of all: The hour is NOW. Now is the day. Now is the time. Now is the hour of our salvation. “Harden not your hearts!” Remember: Coming. Come. Now!

Friday, March 14, 2014

A GLIMPSE OF THE GLORY THAT AWAITS US


Second Sunday of Lent (A)
March 16, 2014

A GLIMPSE OF THE GLORY THAT AWAITS US

Teasers and previews are a common thing in our internet-saturated lives nowadays. Go and see a movie and before you could see the main feature, they show you first a slew of “better things to come” … a series of “coming soons” and a preview of the movies coming “next summer to a movie theater near you.”

Well, the Lord did something similar yet eminently and literally more lofty and heavenly.

But first, a preview … This, the book of Genesis (first reading) does. The Lord tells Abram: “I will make you a great nation … I will make your name great … I will bless those who bless you.” … A vision of things to come! …

Abraham was given a preview. But Timothy is given a retro view – a view of what has happened, what has been done, and what God has wrought in fulfillment of what was promised to Abram: “He saved us and called us to a holy life.” … A vision of things past!

The former was a prequel; the latter, a sequel.

But the story further unfolds with another vision, another teaser, another preview, another show of yet better things to come.

But first, we need to look at the context. Jesus “took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”

Ooops! We need to get our facts straight … No pain; no gain. No guts; no glory. No effort; no comfort. Getting a view to die for does not happen without a view to work for. One does not breathe deep sighs of joy and relief, without first getting into the grind of hard work. The Lord took the disciples up a high mountain.

I remember my first time atop Pulag, the Philippines’ second highest peak many years ago. It was literally and figuratively heavenly at the peak. We were above the clouds that spread like humongous rolls of soft, fluffy cotton below us. It was an exhilarating moment of spiritual upliftment. But let us not talk about how difficult it was to get there. It was back-breaking, knee-punishingly difficult. But comfort needs always to be preceded by effort.

Life, they say, is a journey. And what a journey it has been for me! … Been there; done that! … Been through tough times and good times; crying time and laughing time … a time for everything under the heavens, in Qoheleth’s words.

In this second Sunday of Lent, the Lord gives a preview, a teaser, and at the same time a vision of what He has prepared for us … not without hard work and effort, I might add. The Lord was transfigured, and showed us a preview of what we are also called to be.

We need to be reminded of one basic tenet of our faith. God calls us to greatness and holiness beyond imagination. God calls us to fullness of life and to union with Him. God has created us to one day share in the glory that He has planned for us His creatures.

But we do need to do a little climbing. We need to give it our best efforts. We need to journey up along with Him. No such thing as a free pass; no such thing as a free lunch. We need to invest, too. We need to pitch in capital to win the prize of everlasting glory. But the rewards are exceedingly clear and totally beyond imagination.

Today, that is what precisely He gives us … a teaser, preview and a vision.

After my climb to Pulag, we got down the plane of reality. And I did this many times over in the past decades. One gets a glimpse of what is to come; but one eventually comes down and goes back to what is real … for now … for here… but not forever, yonder … beyond the ordinary reach of mortal man and his limited capacity to fully understand.

I enjoy teasers in movie houses. They whet my appetite for more. They show and hide at the same time. They show better things to come, but they don’t spill the beans altogether. They offer a preview, but do not give us the full view and complete picture. They make us want for more, ask for more, and look for more.

Previews, teasers, and partial visions lead me to look higher, and climb higher, and work harder. For at the end of the proverbial rainbow is that same proverbial pot of gold.

The only difference is this. In our faith, in our Christian expectations, we are not going to get a mere mythical pot of gold, but the glory of God that He has chosen from all time to share with us His children. And He was transfigured to show us proof of what is coming up ahead, for those who are willing to go up with him to the mountain.

Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

DISCERNING, DECIDING, CHOOSING RIGHTLY

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First Sunday of Lent (A)
March 9, 2015





Matthew today tells us of the three temptations of Christ. It sure makes one think of a smorgasbord. Jesus was given three choices, and all three have to do with something that touched him to the core. Who doesn’t want food after fasting so long? Who does not want to be served and protected by minions who would surely come to your rescue at all cost? Who among us would not want a promotion beyond imagination and be able to control all nations and kingdoms?



The offers all sound - pardon the pun – very tempting indeed. Food is good anytime, all the time, especially that time when you have foregone it for so long. Being catered to and protected by others is always good, for anyone, for everyone. And being on the saddle is always better than being at the beck and call of someone else.



Wait! These are all ephemeral goods. Food is good, yes, but it is not the only good. Honor and prestige are both good, but there are other higher goods. Power and control are good to have but they are not always good for anyone, all the time, everytime.



The Bible says “the serpent is the most cunning of all the animals.” It is so cunning he made Eve fall for his redefined and reframed “good.” The question wa subtly misleading. It was at once a half truth and a half lie. It was a typical temptation that is something evil masquerading as truth.



The ending of the story is clear. The fall of the woman became the fall of the man. Misery loves company, and everyone’s downfall was blamed on somebody other than oneself: “It was the woman.” “It was the serpent.” The blaming game is on! And it still goes on till today.



Temptations still abound in our times. We are never satisfied with what we have. Isn’t this the reason why we need to be changing gadgets every few months? Things are pretty much the same during the times of Adam and Eve as now, except for the fact that the devil has taken on a multiplicity of guises: mainstream media, commercial advertisements in the quadrimedia, political dynastic families, government per se, manipulative televangelists, big businesses, narcissistic religious leaders, etc. The list is legion, like what the gospels say.



Even the Lord was tempted, right in the midst of his good deed. The tempter offered something “better.” After all, as they say, the other man’s grass is always greener.

And the choices were figuratively and literally out of this world! Who could refuse something better, bigger and more lucrative?



Today, the example of the Lord in the face of highly attractive offers shows us that the better does not necessarily always leads to what is good ultimately for us. Freedom is not simply the power to choose between options. It also means the power to choose the good on the long haul, not on the short run. It means the power to discern and then decide on what will redound to one’s – and others’ ultimate good.



St. John Bosco often said in his lifetime that “l’ottimo nemico del bene,” – the best is the enemy of the good. In Tagalog homespun wisdom, we refer to someone who is always on the lookout for a better deal as someone who is guilty of “sa paghahanap ng kagitna, sansalop ang nawala.” Roughly translated, it means when one looks for the best conditions, the best deal, and the most lucrative venture while ignoring what good one already has, one ends up getting the shorter end of the stick.



The Lord weighed all his options. Hungry, he was tempted to make food out of stones. Alone and powerless, he was tempted, too, to make his minions prove their loyalty to him. Lonely out in the desert, and wielding no influence over anyone, he was tempted to lord it everybody else, all in exchange for a seemingly harmless act of  prostrating before the devil.



Not all that glitters is gold. Not all that appears good would lead to real, total, honest-to-goodness good. One needs to do more than choose. One needs to discern, to weigh things over from the moral viewpoint, and from the vantage view of faith.

Good, better, or best? It does not matter. When one does what God wants, everything is simply good. And one no longer needs to look for something better. One has done the best option available.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

GOD FIRST, AND ALL THE REST WILL FOLLOW!


8th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
March 2, 2014

GOD FIRST, AND ALL THE REST WILL FOLLOW!

The past four Sundays reminded us of Godly wisdom, in many and varied ways. Today, we are once again told of the wisdom that we need above all others – the wisdom to be able to suffer unjustly, the wisdom to remain solid and steadfast despite the most difficult human pain of all – that of being forsaken, abandoned, even forgotten.

Who among us have not felt such at some point or other in our lives? Who among us did not feel ignored, even perhaps rejected, and treated as less than we deserve?

You know it better than I do, at least as far as your personal story is concerned … we all pass through judgment by others, or by “any human tribunal.” We are judged for what we do or say. We are also judged for how we appear, or how we come across to people. No matter what they say, people tend to judge a book by its cover.

I just came back from a trip to beautiful Camiguin Island, just southeast of Bohol and north of Cagayan de Oro. The island is spotlessly clean; the gardens fronting houses are mostly well manicured, well taken care of. Everyone seems to take pride in what their island can offer – a mixture of ecological wonders and man-made wonders. The best that I noticed was the simplicity of people, and their apparent honesty and trustworthiness. I never for a minute worried about losing any of the few gadgets that I had to bring in order to make the seminar I handled run smoothly.

I remember being singled out by an elementary teacher for some misdemeanor I never committed. She lost something of value, and I was, apparently, the first in her short list of suspects. It was hard to face that piercing and menacing look and verbal threats. But it was harder to live with the idea that one has been unfarily judged and unjustly treated.

That was not the first and the last time in my life I was bothered by anxiety. I worried about anything and everything. I got anxious about people not looking too kindly on me on occasion. The worst was being treated as a pariah, after working so hard for things I never got to enjoy personally.

I am sure my readers and hearers can identify with what I am saying. And I am sure, too, that many of you, like me, find solace in the comforting and prophetic words of the readings today. I am sure that some of you might still be waiting up till now, for the Lord to “bring to light what is hidden in darkness and manifest the motives of our hearts.”

Yes … Today is a moment of solace and comfort, not from humans and from the world, but from God Himself. Yes … God cares for you and me, and today is as good as any other, for us to be reminded that God’s care never wanes, never disappears at any given time.

But is this solely wishful thinking and merely pious thought for us to get by and consider like a pie in the sky, or the opium of the credulous and the weak of heart?

I don’t  think so. I have been a priest more than 30 years. Been there; done that … I have been through situations of serenity and sorrow. I have gone through tough times and rough times. But there is one thing that I can honestly, sincerely, and confidently tell everyone … The Lord never felt closer to me than during those times I was passing through the worst. They were the worst of times; they, too, were the best of times.

But again, is this all merely a rose petal to tuck in between the pages of the book of our lives? … something we can finger through and sniff and smell when we are passing through darkness and desperation?

My answer is no … For this is not something we all wait for passively. This confidence in the mercy and compassion of God is not something we just receive passively. No … We need to learn: “Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.” Second, we need to have faith, not things would get better anyway, but faith in God, “who knows what [we] need. And third, we need to go actively in search for God: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you besides.”

All these things will be given us besides! I think I will go for God and all the rest that faith in Him will bring! God and God alone, yes … and everything else that God will provide … rejection, sorrow, unjust treatment and false judgment from others, and peace, serenity, love … God alone, and then some!