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Thursday, June 26, 2014

COMPETING WELL, FINISHING & KEEPING THE FAITH


SOLEMNITY OF STS. PETER & PAUL
June 29, 2014

COMPETING WELL, FINISHING, & KEEPING THE FAITH

We live in times where multi-tasking seems to be the run of the day. We attend meetings left and right, but even as we try our best to follow all the proceedings, our smartphones are busy beeping, chirping, chiming or burping, as the case may be, calling our attention to a thousand-and-one concerns that are all collectively called “notifications.” We turn on the coffee-maker first thing in the morning, even as we boot our laptops, or pick up our tablets to look for the MMDA app that tells us what we already know – that traffic is bad like any other day, and that so-called alternate routes are simply make-believe alternate routes, for everyone has exactly the same idea!

We begin so many tasks. We start so many campaigns. We call for so many rallies and sign up to so many petitions. We begin so many faddish diets and we enroll ourselves in every program, from zumba to swimming, to snorkeling, and all, and when vacation days come around, we end up merely snoring our way to our rest day. We stock up on all possible reading materials. We store up on everything on sale. We start a project to redo the kitchen, and we end up buying “to go” food on every occasion, or suffer the consequences of a fast-food diet oozing with salt, spices, and oil and that much dreaded, but poorly understood “trans-fats.”

We put up an initial gallant fight against all imaginable oppressors, mostly from within, rather that from without. We open the new year with a gallant resolution, broadcasted for effect on social media, pinned on pinterest, and instantly published through instagram, and publicly posted on pages, fb or otherwise!

We compete but seldom complete. We start, but very seldom see through to fulfillment. We set out in faith, but keeping to the tenets of the same faith is a totally different matter.

We could be heroes without causes; rebels without reason nor rhyme; and visionaries without commitment.

The Lord had many followers. Many of them were fair-weather followers, truth be told. A great many followed with their stomachs and merely followed the scent of food. A good number followed the Lord wherever he went, but stopped short of being with him and dying with him at Calvary. Why, even the leader of the Band of Brothers – no less than Peter himself, denied him three times, before a harmless, but definitely very curious and inquisitive maiden who asked him point blank: “Aren’t you one of them?”

Today, we remember that follower and his momentary loss of resolve – if, loss of dedication and courage! Peter was at the top of the heap, not out of his own choice and decision, but called personally by the Lord. Paul was a Johnny-come-Lately who “was born out of normal course,” but who was an apostle “true and through.”

Both showed moments of weakness. Both showed not so honorable streaks in their personalities. Paul was persecutor and hater. Peter was not too sure he should tell the whole truth about himself that fine cold night when he was asked point blank by the curious maiden.

Both started out with trepidation and fear. Both had initial misgivings. Both showed they were not totally cut out for the job. But both did what they knew they were sent to do. Both grew in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, and did what was expected of them. Both became great saints, great apostles, great disciples, and great models for us weaklings, who cannot even stay one hour at a meeting without checking surreptitiously on our smartphones for the latest post, the latest message, and yes  … the latest update on our latest gadget.

There is greatness in starting big. But it is easy to start, and not that easy to keep on going when everyone around you has fallen down like flies. It is easy to sprint for the first few minutes, but very difficult to keep on running when everyone else has gotten to the sidelines, sipping cold ice tea, or running one’s fingers on a signature cup of coffee with everyone else nursing a similar cup while frantically exercising one’s finger muscles and tapping apps and icons on a glass pane with retina displays.

There is greatness in starting, but there is heroism and martyrdom on “competing well, finishing the race, and keeping the faith.”

And this, my dear friends, is what Peter and Paul did. They went beyond the initial oath-taking and partying when they inaugurated the club called “Apostles Incorporated.” They went beyond saying, “I will follow you wherever you go,” but at the first sign of trouble, all the rest of us would rather mutter, “Hold it right there … I don’t think I can make it.!”

Yes, dear friends, heroism and martyrdom are synonymous with being Christian followers. Discipleship is not just posting statuses and updating apps. It has to do with competing well, with finishing fully, and with keeping to the faith.

Oh, did I say anything about shedding one’s blood and surrendering one’s will to Him, who alone is God, who alone is Lord, and who alone holds the ultimate victory that we all are staking our lives for?

So, now, get off your digitally engorged asses and start working. Compete. Fight on. Finish up, and keep the faith!

At the other side of the race track is not just a rainbow or a ribbon. At the end of this mortal life is – life in its fullness, eternal life, with Him up there in heaven, our only true home! Fair enough? You bet!

Friday, June 20, 2014

FOR REAL. FOR CERTAIN. FOR ALL TIME. FOREVER!

Corpus Christi (A)
June 22, 2014

FOR REAL. FOR CERTAIN. FOR ALL TIME. FOREVER!

Of late, there has been an increasing mistrust for fake food and everything fake from a certain country. Let us hide its identity under the name “China.” In my latest visit to Hong Kong, I was told that certain people in that country have mastered the art – and the business! – of producing fake everything: fake eggs, fake beef, fake milk, not to mention all the fake “signature” items that can be found everywhere where they sell cheap goods.

In our country, we have fake public servants who actually serve no more than their own pockets, their family, their best interests, and definitely not the common weal. Let us also hide them under the collective title of “congressman or senator.”

Of late, too, certain places I am very familiar with have also seen a number of fake priests, who do nothing more than sprinkle holy water to business establishments … for a fee, of course! Of course, having such fake people roaming and hovering around is a tragedy all its own, but the worse tragedy is knowing that certain people fall for their antics, and that certain people, although forewarned repeatedly, still fall for the wiles of scammers and pyramidal scheme proponents. I know … some of those recently victimized are personally known to me.

The Lord, in today’s great feast, speaks about all things real, all things true, and all things that lead to true and authentic life in its fullness.

This is what the feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord is all about – real food and real drink, and real promises that speak about real rewards and more than just earthly life as we know it.

What is good about us human beings is that we all pine for the real thing. Years ago, we asked for Coke, the real thing. We were told that “things go better with Coca-Cola,” and that “it’s the real thing,” and that “Coke adds life,” whatever that meant. We would never settle for anything less than authentic. We asked years ago, for the “orig” maong pants, the real Levi’s (501?), or the real Black Label hard drink, or that which was popularized by the idol of the masses – Blue Label. When we were kids, we all heard about “blue seal” cigarettes, and by that, everyone meant the real thing, smuggled into the country by some enterprising businessman, who was never called a smuggler, nor a criminal, but one who brought in cheap, imported, but genuine items for the masses to enjoy.

Today, I would like us to “remember.” Today, I would like us not “to forget the Lord who brought us out of the land of Egypt,” or any other place where we did not feel real.  Today, too, I would like us to put our focus on the “cup of blessing that we bless,” and “the bread that we break.”

No … they are not fakes. They are not imported from that unmentionable country. Neither are they coming from fake legislators who are only real during the yearly SONA speech of the equally fake leader whose expertise never goes beyond giving bombastic but empty rhetoric, year in and year out.

Yes … they are true. Yes … they are authentic. Yes … they are real … real food and real drink. But that is not where the REAL stops. The more important REAL is the fact that it leads to rising, to living, for real, forever! They lead to eternal life, the only authentic life we can ever imagine and possess, already now in germinal form, every time we eat of his flesh … every time we drink of his blood.

In the final analysis, we really could not care less about fakes (including the fake faces of those clowns who love to call themselves “honorable.). We could not care less about who’s selling fake food and who’s being fooled by such fake items. Life is too short to spend on trivial pursuits like wearing fake Chanels and fake Gucci bags and belts and buttons.

But it is worth our while to work for the real thing … It is worth all our efforts to look for the real, out of this world reward … It is worth everything we can ever hope to do to spend all our lives looking for that which “raises” us up, which makes us participate in the blood of Christ, Savior, Lord, Brother, and Friend.

Those real, authentic and genuine gifts from the God who offered Himself fully, from His Son who offered his Body and Blood that we all might live truly and fully, are worth all our efforts to pursue, partake, receive, and seek after!

He is bread come down from heaven. He is food and drink. “And whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day!”

For real. For certain. For all time. Forever!



Saturday, June 14, 2014

GRACIOUS AND MERCIFUL IS THE LORD!


Trinity Sunday (A)
June 15, 2014

GRACIOUS AND MERCIFUL IS GOD!

We have all kinds of names for people who are gruff, rough, uncouth and unrefined. It is hard to pin down just what it is that stands out in their obnoxious character, but we simply know that there is something sorely missing. Thus, one who does not know how to close doors, turn off faucets and lights after using, or one who behaves like he is the only person in the whole wide world, unmindful of others’ welfare, comfort and needs is simply ungracious, dense, selfish, self-centered and a whole lot more.

We don’t like such people around. We avoid them. We steer clear of them, and some of them can even literally throw their weight around, and make everybody else’s lives revolve around their own. They can be very well connected, but never attuned; they can also be very much engaged, but never involved. They can very busy, but never really productive. They can even work at cross purposes with others, and by simply being obnoxious, turn off everyone and make them go for the nearest exit, to go as far as possible from such people.

Truth to tell, each one of us could very well fit the mold. As they say, we all have our rough edges, and we all have each of us our ugly side. There are times we are never gracious. There are times we are never merciful. Times there are, too, when, instead of uniting others, we become the cause celebre of division.

Charge all that to original sin. We were born with that “damned spot” in our nature, and graciousness and mercy are two things we need to develop and grow into, by virtue of hard work, God’s grace, and human determination.

God’s grace! … This is what is given to us each day at Mass … the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, coming from God, in communion with the Holy Spirit!

God’s grace! … This is what fellowship, communion and unity all lead to and produce in us.

God’s grace! … This is what we learn in history. This, too, is what we glean in mystery. And this, in the end, is what the eyes of faith will eventually show us – the splendor and majesty of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

History is full of what is antithetical to the nature of God. We have always been at loggerheads with each other, not only Cain and Abel, mind you! Two world wars in recent memory have marred our history, not to mention the endless wars fought even – and most especially – by biblical peoples. You don’t have to go too far … I am sure there are those of us who cannot even see eye-to-eye with a neighbor, a sibling, a cousin, an estranged relative, or former ally, friend, or colleague. Even Jacob was ostracized by his brothers!

This same world shows us pretty mysterious signs of contradiction. Government ought to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Last thing I heard is, people don’t count as number one. Money does. Pork barrel does. Fake NGOs do. And don’t talk to me about houses galore abroad, and properties abounding (owned by dummies, why of course!) everywhere where the sun rises and sets.

Many preachers today will speak about the Trinity in mystery … are you ready for this? Theologians have a big word for it – “the nature of the Trinity ad intra!” Never mind if you don’t get it … Let’s try another one … “the nature of the Trinity ad extra!”

Hmm … nice beautiful words. But let’s get down to jejemon language. It only means God, not in Himself, but a God in action, a God for us, before He is a God-in-and-for-Himself … a God in action, rather than a God who sits in the heavens! … A God who acts in history before He is known as a God of mystery!

And this is who God is … A God-in-relation … God who is Father … God who is Son … God who is Holy Spirit. Three persons, one God. This God is not a happy, lonesome Self, all by His lonesome unconnected Self. He is One, yes … in Three Persons. But that is not the important matter. The most important is what Scriptures say very succinctly: “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.”

And this is who God is … a God-in-action … God who who shares Himself in and through grace … a God who reveals Himself as Love and gives of Himself in the same love … a God who is in communion, in fellowship with us His creatures.

I don’t like snobs. (This is why, at times, I also don’t like my snobbish self!) I don’t like people who live their lives like there are no other people to be concerned with (I also hate it when I think only of myself!). I abhor people who bring discord, intrigue, factionalism, polarization and division everywhere they go.

Our gracious God is a God who makes us one. Our gracious God is a God who molds us into community, with Him, and thus form one Church, one Faith, who share in the one baptism and who worship one Lord, one God and Father of all.

Praise and glory be to the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Gracious and merciful is He!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

MANY. DIFFERENT. SPIRIT. SOURCE. ONE


Pentecost Sunday
June 8, 2014

MANY. DIFFERENT. SPIRIT. SOURCE. ONE

Everything we hear today smacks of differences. Every concrete image spoken of in the readings shows diversity. The first reading speaks of Parthians, Medes, & Elamites, to name but a few. St. Paul talks about different gifts, different forms of service, different workings, and many parts in the body. Even preschool kids know this by heart: “I have two hands, the left and the right” … etc.

I have lived in this planet for many decades by now. I have lived in different parts of the same planet for as many years, and dealt with many different types of character and personality. Some of them are easy to live with; others are a proverbial pain the neck, maybe including me, as far as many others are concerned.

The event reported in today’s readings also speak of “tongues of fire” … many, not few. The tongues of fire eventually produced different tongues on the part of so many people who got a dose of them “tongues of fire.” They both understood the different languages and also were able to speak different tongues.

Today, Pentecost Sunday, let me put it as bluntly and directly as I can … The many became one. The different became the same. The multiple parts came to be known as parts of one and the same body and the separated owing to geography and mentality and culture and mores came to be gathered into one. The weak became strong; the bashful and tentative became bold, and those who felt fear became courageous. The divided peoples became united. The fearful became fearless, and the weary of heart became zealous and committed.

All this happened on account of those “tongues of fire,” which represented what no tongue can express sufficiently – the coming down of the One Spirit that was Source of so many different gifts, the giver of everything good, the unifier and sanctifier that brought power to those who once were weak, afraid, discouraged, and divided.

This – and a whole lot more is what Pentecost is all about. It is about having a fresh impetus, a new start, a renewed push, and re-invigorated hope for things to come.

We are no better off right now than the disciples were, once cowering in fear of those who put their Master and Lord to death. We are no better off  now than they were in terms of lack of unity. We are still caught up in so much competition and bitter wrangling about many things. We are brown, yellow, black and white, and up till now, a great many of us are suspicious of those who look different. In some countries, they think of us Filipinos as no better than what they know us to be – domestic helpers, and not much else. The Chinese look at everybody else as threats to their well-being and therefore keep on bullying everybody else.

But at the same time, I know deep in my heart that there are foreigners who were born in Europe, who speak different tongues, but who chose to come and live with indigenous tribes, trying their level best to help the poor rise from all types of misery. The tongues of fire that gave them spiritual gifts have bridged the cultural and economic gap between their people and ours.

The Spirit is alive. “Jesus is Lord.” God is active and engaged in the world. He is present in and through the Spirit who is the Source of all that leads to unity, understanding, peace, harmony, and fraternity.

This is what today’s feast celebrates. This is what we do: from different tongues, from a big diversity of gifts, characters, and personalities, we become one people, under the one and the same Lord. Once weak, we are now empowered. Once fearful, we have become bold.

Go then and show that boldness with your life and action and words: “Jesus is Lord.” Now, that is the only thing that matters! Many. Different? No problem! There is one Spirit. One Source. One Lord.