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Saturday, May 31, 2014

UP TO HEAVEN; OUT INTO THE WORLD!


Ascension Sunday
June 1, 2015

UP TO HEAVEN; OUT INTO THE WORLD

Parents who work day in and day out have to leave their dear children everyday. For many young Filipino parents, one or both of them even have to go abroad to earn a living. For the rest who work here, they leave beloved toddlers and young children to either their yaya or their own parents, the grandparents.

I talk about leaving because that is precisely what the Ascension of the Lord is NOT about. This is also true of Filipino parents who leave home either on the long or short haul. They don’t leave home to be away. They leave home or country to be more effectively present in shaping the future of their children.

Ascension is not about Christ leaving us to go home and away from us. Ascension is all about Christ being glorified and going home to the Father, but not to be away from His flock.

Go back to the gospel of Matthew today and see if I don’t make sense. Nowhere in today’s gospel passage does Matthew refer to the fact of the Ascension itself.

Young parents may leave home and may not be physically present to their children, but they are anything but absent. Studies show that when Skype and Facetime weren’t in vogue yet, the telephone was a very handy gadget to keep one’s presence to family back home intact. When texting came to the fore, texts flew back and forth – from HongKong to Honolulu; from Copenhagen to Cincinnati; from Manila to Maldives, etc.

The Lord deserves the glory He got for He is Son of God. Ascension is about the glorious – if, inscrutable mystery of God’s majesty and glory – something that we mortals cannot fully fathom, nor truly appreciate. But God’s majesty and glory does not translate to God being up there and man being down here, with the two parties incapable of truly being intimate. That is not what salvation history has shown us.

All of salvation history as recorded in Scripture is all about God bending over backwards to accommodate us. It is all about God coming down so that man might go up to Him, in heaven, our only true home. It is all about presence. It is based on the fact and mystery of the Incarnation, which means God being Emmanuel, God being with us, in Christ, His Son.

No. Ascension does not mean Good-bye. No … Ascension does not mean Christ going UP to be AWAY  from us, but Christ going up to be glorified, so that we may also become like Him. Ascension is all about indwelling presence through GRACE. He was, and is, present in HISTORY. He is still present in MYSTERY.

But there is a clincher … His going UP, NOT AWAY, is a going OUT for Him and for us. He sends us out … out into the world, to preach the gospel, to baptize, to save … Like He did … Like He still does … Like we ought … Like we are called to do.

Ascension, ultimately, is never about absence, but about presence in a more effective, mysterious, yet real way. For Christ remains to be what Scripture has always said He is … EMMANUEL – GOD WITH US.

Mane nobiscum, Domine! Semper et pro semper!



Friday, May 23, 2014

SPIRIT BEFORE US; SPIRIT BESIDE US; SPIRIT IN US!


6th Sunday of Easter A
May 25, 2014

SPIRIT BEFORE US; SPIRIT BESIDE US; SPIRIT IN US!

Indwelling presence are two big words. After so long studying theology prior to ordination, I still could not fully understand it. As a priest for so long now, I think I am beginning to understand some of it.

The three readings today talk about the Spirit being given and being received. The first reading talks about Peter and John going to Samaria and praying over the Samaritans recently baptized. Peter’s letter (second reading) refers to Jesus being brought back to life in the Spirit. The Gospel of John reminds us of the Father giving another Advocate who “will be with us always” – the “Spirit of Truth.”

Indwelling presence may be big words, but the reality they stand for is even bigger! And it does not matter anymore if my puny little mind can still not fully fathom what it means.

When I don’t understand things, I feel I am alone in the dark. Being alone is bad enough at times, but being in the dark, on top of being alone, could be worse. I remember a nightmare I had as a little boy. I was all alone in a dark room. I could hear menacing shouts outside the house. I was petrified in fear. I could not move and I could not see neither anything nor anyone. It was pitch dark. And I was alone, with no one beside me, to sit by me, to reassure me. I don’t know now how long I was in that situation that brought me so much terror. I don’t remember much of anything anymore, but I do remember feeling terrified … terrified as much being in the dark, as having no one beside me.

The disciples must have felt the same when the Lord died. Their Master and Lord had disappeared all so suddenly, put to death by the hated and feared authorities. They hid in the Upper Room. And it didn’t help any that they did not know what they did with the body of their Lord, for they received reports that it had been taken away.

What a relief it must have been to see Him alive and well! That was good news. But Christ leads us from good to great. He does not settle for the simply good. He gives us the best. And the great news that confronts us today is simply this …

We will never be alone. Ever! He promised to ask the Father who will “give another Advocate.”

I still don’t fully understand what indwelling presence means, but I do know what having someone beside me forever means. It simply means I am no longer in the dark, and I am no longer alone. There is a “Paraclete” who acts as Advocate, who simply stands by me and sits by me, and stays with me, and who leads me from good to great. He leads me and you and us to the Truth, saving Truth, to ultimate Truth.

I love now to think of the Holy Spirit as one who stays with me and us. I have it  from experience that what one receives makes one full. When one receives something, one becomes filled … one becomes rich … one becomes complete. One does not remain alone, unfilled, unfulfilled.

This is the Great gift of the Paraclete. With this, I need not worry anymore about high faluting theological big words like indwelling presence. He was poured out generously by the Father to Christ’s Church … to you and me. Because of this, we stand to become, not only filled, but also fulfilled; no longer alone, but accompanied in our journey; not only anxious in the dark, but joyful in His presence!

Glory be to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

Friday, May 16, 2014

GOING SOME PLACE, SOMEHOW? WHAT ABOUT "GOING TO THE FATHER?"


5th Sunday of Easter Year A
May 18, 2014

GOING SOME PLACE, SOMEHOW? 
WHAT ABOUT “GOING TO THE FATHER?”

We Filipinos are generally not good at giving directions. Go anywhere in the country; ask anyone to tell you how to get to a place, and more often than not, the person would tell you that it’s not too far from where you are, at times even using the lips to point towards a particular direction. You asked for directions and they tell you it’s not too far off.

I remember two hard to forget experiences about direction-giving, both of which happened abroad. Those two separate experiences show that is easier to show rather than to tell people where to go. I was still in my elementary French lessons then, many years ago. I asked a Parisian man where Rue des Pyrenees was, in my halting French. He told me to follow him, and he led me right next to the gate of the building. In Reno, Nevada, we were driving one very cold autumn night looking for Incline Village where my siblings and I were supposed to have been billeted. We asked the police who were cruising by and who probably realized we were going around in circles. These were the words of the police officer: “Follow me.”

It is one thing to tell people where to go. It is quite another to show people how to get there. It is one thing, too, to tell people one possible way among many. It is quite another to show the one and only way.

In today’s gospel passage, two disciples were kind of lost. Thomas asked the Lord: “How can we know the way?” Philip, for his part, needed something more substantial: “Show us the Father!” In a way, Thomas echoed the traditional manner of asking for directions: “Tell us!” In contrast, Philip asked for a “show-and-tell.”

And this is where the answer of the Lord in both cases hits the nail right on the head, as they say. He did not tell. He did not give them a map. He did not give them a menu from which to choose. He did not give them a GPS. No … he pointed to himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

When I was a student, not very long ago (now that’s an understatement!), I didn’t appreciate that teachers, when they were asked by students to explain, would just repeat what they said earlier, and students would be more perplexed than ever. But good teachers generally showed with their empathic and patient listening and interacting, what it meant to be a real teacher, not just a lecturer. Lecturers speak of things outside of themselves. Teachers and mentors showed with their lives and their persons what it means to become the answers their students are searching for. They don’t tell; they show. They don’t give directions; they accompany.

Nowadays, people are searching for answers more than ever. It does not help any that for most of their questions, google comes to the rescue, and gives thousands of lists from which to select. For one who loves to dabble at cooking like myself, even recipes come in different forms, styles, twists, and methods of cooking. One recipe is just one among many. For many of us, faith in God is one among many options, and being Catholic, and acting like one almost seems to be optional. One can still believe in God, and still in the same vein, reject teachings that one does not like. Religion, they say, will not save anyone, but faith in God does. The only problem is that faith is reduced to a shallow sentimentalism that makes no demands, makes no rules, and simply makes one feel good and smug about being sort of spiritual.

Today, the Lord’s teachings are a good reminder for all of us. He is not just a teacher, but a mentor. He is not one who tells, but one who shows. And he declares himself not one among many possible ways, but the one WAY, the one TRUTH, the one LIFE.

And he does not just lead us to an undefined destination. He leads us to the Father, because “I am going to the Father.”

Saturday, May 10, 2014

THE VOICE


4th Sunday Easter A
May 11, 2014

THE VOICE

Many years ago, when we were in High School, the official publication of the school was called very simply, “The Voice.” I did not think it was very creative back then, and neither did I fancy the idea that “The Voice” would attract hordes of readers other than those who wrote for it, their parents, and their close-in supporters.

It was bland, nondescript, uninspired, and absolutely boring.

But it did have a following. “The Voice” had a steady stream, albeit small, of readers. We loyalists heard and followed “The Voice” alright and it was the closest thing to having our own brand of “Readers’ Digest” that we all looked forward to perusing, years before facebook took all of it away.

The Lord was not one to turn heads either. He came from a forlorn, forgotten place called Nazareth. And indeed, “what good could come from Nazareth?”

But the Nazarean did have a voice alright. He called a few to follow him. He taught, He preached. He healed. He cured. He did wonders. And a small band began to follow him. All the way … In all ways … Most of them for always, except one who gave in to despair and went swiftly into the night.

Peter, who was weak like you and me, faltered. He wavered at the voice of the maidservant who said, “you, too, were among his band of followers, weren’t you?” But the erstwhile voice of the maidservant could only last for three short moments, long enough for him to say “I don’t know the man,” but short enough for him to recognize his sin and cry out in sorrow with bitter tears.

But there was Paul, too, who listened to the voice of contemporary philosophers and secularists, then. He took up the cudgels for them and “breathed murderous threats” to the followers of the Galilean. He persecuted the Church, but the voice of those who hated the Church was no match for the Voice of him who said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Paul took heed. He listened and allowed the Voice to take the better of him. He repented. He believed. He followed, like no other disciple did, and embarked on numerous missionary journeys, as if to make up for lost time all throughout the time he was a persecutor and a big stumbling block to all incipient believers.

Today, like Peter, like Paul, like the disciples, I need to hear “The Voice” once again. I need to pay attention to the voice of one who leads, not misleads; the voice of One who guides, not glides over our lives and our world with utter unconcern and carefree insouciance.

No. The Voice I speak about is shepherd. I take that back … He is the gatekeeper. No … again he was a shepherd “who calls his own sheep by name.” No … he is the gate for the sheep. Which is which? He is simply Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd has a VOICE. He calls. He guides. He teaches. He opens gates for his sheep, and He Himself is the gate. He is all this and everything. He is life. He is journey. He is destination. He is reward. He is the Way. Truth. Life.

In this regard, I can never be confused as I actually am confused right now. I hear too many voices. Are we growing and developing really? Are we curbing corruption really? Then why are there still so many poor people? Radio and TV commentators seem to have a common “voice” all the time about contentious issues. Major broadsheets seem to always echo the offiicial line of the the powers-that-be.

Which is which, then? This life confuses us. The strident voices of people so caught up in politics and in the agenda covered by dysfunctional politics of the plundering kind will always tell you what you want to hear. But are we progressing? Are we closer now to the truth, to prosperity, and to the common good than we were, say, three or four years ago.

I am changing channels. I suggest you do the same. Change your service provider. Change your cable … Change your network … Don’t just listen to any voice, but listen to “the Voice.”

“A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Are you listening? Are you following?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

TWO DISCOURAGED DISCIPLES; TWO DEVOTED AND SAINTLY APOSTLES

 
3rd Sunday Easter (A)
May 4, 2014

TWO DISCOURAGED DISCIPLES; 
TWO DEVOTED & SAINTLY APOSTLES



Today and last Sunday would be a “study in contrasts.” Just allow me to attempt at making a comparison. Last Sunday was a story of two enthusiastic and happy apostles who galloped their way towards sanctity. All told, about 4 million people flocked to Rome for the occasion. Hundreds of thousands converged at the Piazza di San Pietro and beyond, clogging all available side streets and open spaces. Hundreds of millions more watched the solemn proceedings on TV and via online streaming.



Today, though, no one is watching. Who loves to watch a story of dejected and despondent men, dragging their feet towards any place away from (not towards) the city of dropped plans, dashed dreams, and utter disappointment, if not, defeat? They ambled about in shame. They absent-mindedly walked away from the city that once nurtured their brightest and fondest hopes. Their once mighty team was now a loser by any standard. Their ball captain has been silenced; their team put to rout; and just about everyone was hiding in the upper room, for fear.



I am not a particularly good ball player. Though I dabbled with a bit of soccer and basketball, I was nowhere near the status of belonging to an A-team, and those who would make a mad dash for the first and final five, and bring the team to a tumultuous victory from both ends. But I sure knew a good ball captain or a good playing coach when I saw one. God knows how many games we have lost, and how many games we have won. And those that we won, definitely were not due to my stellar skills and spectacular moves (or the utter lack of them!), but more due to who was in-charge … to who was directing the team … to who was egging everyone on!



I was too young when good old St. John XXIII was making waves. I faintly remembered radio announcers talking glowingly about good Pope John. I did not know why, but I do remember the good feeling of people who spoke about him glowingly, enthusiastically. He was a good ball captain. He egged everyone on, and urged everyone to become better with his simplicity, his candor, and his holiness. He was the grandfather of the whole world, and everyone seemed to wait with eager longing for his fatherly words of advice.



I was more than just old enough when St. John Paul II came to the scene. As a young professed religious then just fresh from philosophy, the captain impressed me immensely. He gave the world a rousing challenge and a welcome call: “Be not afraid!” The coach gave the world fresh breath of new hope. He was the apostle of hope, even as St. John XXIII was the apostle of joy. Both were agents of change and pushers of enthusiasm. Their sights were focused on the heavenly Jerusalem. And everyone knew that both of them were moving towards that city, not away from it.



In contrast, the two disciples today were moving away. They were beaten, not driven. They moved away from the “everlasting hills” that they did not see anymore.



But despite the seeming bad news from the two, today’s good news is clear. This is a good news that I would rather hold on, hang onto, and revel in. For I was so often like the two beaten bench warmers. How often have I lost enthusiasm when the dream of ever getting that coveted trophy is far from sight, and far from reach! How often have I lost, not just enthusiasm, but even faith when the going got rough, and I was not among the tough ones that kept going and going and going like Eveready batteries!



I am sinner. Like the two … devoid of hope, devoid of faith, devoid of energy … and this not just once, not twice, but seven times seven times. There was even a time I hated the Church and blamed her for my woes, for having been given a raw deal by those who represented the institutional Church.



But now I know my Savior lives. He has risen, indeed, as He had promised. And I know it vicariously, for the two despondent disciples were not left in the lurch. The Lord came to rescue them from the depths of misery. The ball captain and playing coach came, not just to egg them on, but to accompany them, to be their companion on the way (cum panis, which is the root word of companion, has to do with “bread!). He joined them. He marched with them; listened and talked to them, and then broke bread and shared bread with them.



The Risen Lord is close to the broken hearted! The Lord came to lift their spirits up, and to energize them for the work up ahead.



The Lord came once in 1959 … in the person of good Pope St. John XXIII. The Lord came once again to show the way in 1978 … in the person of St. John Paul II, as He did when Paul VI reigned, and suffered much all through his long reign.



The two discouraged disciples were discouraged no more. They went right back to where they were trying to run away from. The two modern apostles, more than acting like good team captains, now act as the Supreme Shepherd Himself.



And last thing I heard is, they don’t lead us to defeat and despondency. They lead us to courage, to faith, to hope, and love, and total victory in the Risen Christ!



Are you a good team player? Never mind if you are not among the first fielders or the first five or the last five. We all count, for the Shepherd up there, counts on each and everyone of us!



Here I am, Lord! Send me!