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Saturday, July 26, 2014

DO WE REALLY KNOW WHAT IS BEST FOR US?

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17th Sunday Year A
July 27, 2014

DO WE REALLY KNOW WHAT IS BEST FOR US?



I take my cue from last week’s second reading from St. Paul … “We really do not know how to pray and what to pray for,” he wrote. But thanks be to God, he goes on: “The Spirit himself prays for us in sighs and groans that words cannot express.”



I do not know how to pray … even now, up till now. I do pray, but, to be honest with you, many times, I don’t know what to ask for. I don’t know what is best for me. I don’t know what is God’s plan for me on the short term. I do know, in faith and in hope, that He wants what is good for me and for others, but, at any given time, I don’t know what is best for he, here and now and in the foreseeable future.



I was crying (as usual) reading the report about the families of the doomed MH 17 flight en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. They all had premonitions. One even was sorry to “miss” the bus to the airport, but ended up not missing the flight. But that which brought a torrent of tears was the story of an 11-year old boy who clung to Mama, saying “I will really miss you,” and “What happens if the plane crashes?”  There were some who prayed to be allowed a seat in flight, and those who, while hoping to get a seat, were not favored with one.



What would I have prayed for if I were in their shoes? Do I really know what is best for me? Am I really entitled to tell God what He should give me granted that I really knew what was best for me?



I turn to today’s readings for guidance. I look to God’s Word for consolation, for after reading those stories, including that of the three Pinoys who were excitedly going home for a family reunion in Pagbilao, Quezon, I am in grief myself … for all those who perished, and for those they left behind to make sense of something so utterly senseless in the first place.



Solomon seemed to know what was best for him then … He asked to be given “an understanding heart to judge the people and to distinguish right from wrong.” The Lord was pleased. The Lord granted him his request, “et sapientiam dedit illi” … he was given wisdom.



He was given that, not selfish requests. He was granted wisdom, “not a long life for himself, nor for riches, nor for the life of his enemies.”



He asked for what really mattered in the end. He asked for what would redound to the good of others. He asked for things that went beyond his person, his needs, his wants and his cares.



I don’t know what to ask for. I am saddled right now with so many concerns, finding myself in a post that would required the energy and focus of a much younger man. The times have changed. The culture has gone from bad to worse, and the existence of a sub-culture in the organization makes it even more daunting and forbidding. I don’t know what to ask for!



All I can say at times is what the psalmist prays for today: “Lord, I love your commands.” I do, but let me add: “Let your kindness comfort me according to your promise to your servants. Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight.” (Responsorial Psalm).



I may not know what to ask for, but God knows. This is the good news that I see and hear today! God knows. God loves. And God cares. “We all know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (2nd Reading).



We may not know what to ask for either, but God knows our needs, and “our” here does not mean “my own alone,” for here, for now. It also means the needs of the suffering and persecuted Christians in Iraq, whose lives are in danger right now, and who, like all the rest of us, do not deserve to suffer.



My heart goes out to the families of the bereaved from the loss of MH 17, most especially the relatives of those who could not have known, and who are wondering how could they have not known (or how could some of them have known in their premonitions!). My heart goes out to the suffering Christians in Iraq who could die martyrs’ deaths anytime even as I write.



But most of all, my heart goes out to God. My hands reach out to Him in faith, in hope, and in love, beseeching Him to lead me where it matters most, to lead me to do what matters most, and to help me do that which means most to people who most need me and my puny little services and little capacities.



God promises not just any cheap grace. God promises costly grace, precious grace, life-giving grace, and that grace leads not just to physical well-being of the temporal kind, or happiness that goes with the swaying of the wind, or with the sudden explosion of a missile fired by wicked and depraved men and groups of men.



That costly grace is called by other names. Today, He calls it the Kingdom of heaven. And it is like a treasure buried in the field, which we ought to work for. It is like a merchant searching for fine pearls, and those pears are not laid on a silver platter. One has to work for them. That treasure, too, is like a net thrown into the sea.



I don’t know what is coming up ahead. I don’t know whether my wishes and prayers will be granted, but I do know one thing … From God’s storehouse comes both the new and the old, and for the really prayerful man or woman, what He gives is good enough. What He gives is best for me and you. Need I try to know now what is best for me? Need I pester God to give me what I think  is best for me?



Blessed are you Father, Lord of heaven and earth: for you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the kingdom! That little boy of 11 years old who died after repeatedly hugging his mother is probably one to whom that mystery has been revealed. And I dare not judge now what is really the best for him and for his grieving parents!

Friday, July 18, 2014

A GOD LIKE NO OTHER!


16th Sunday Year A
July 20, 2014

A GOD LIKE NO OTHER!

I can never claim to be like God … no … not by any stretch of the imagination! “There is no god besides [him] who has the care of all …” So says the first reading, to which I heartily agree. He is clear about justice. He is master of might. But He is a God of clemency of heart, not just clarity of mind.

I can never claim to be a model pray-er. I often mumble, if not ramble, through the time set aside for prayer. I do not even know what to pray for, on occasion. But God, like no other, in and through the Holy Spirit, actually – fortunately! – prays for me, and “comes to the aid of my weakness.”

I can never claim to be patient like God is … He allows weeds to grow alongside the wheat. He even “sleeps with the enemy” and allows him the freedom to deny Him. Clarity in terms of justice with might does not take away God’s compassion matched with clemency and inexhaustible mercy.

But I sometimes do wish I were like God! For life in this world and everything associated with it, sorely pushes my clemency, mercy and patience to the limits. I have little patience, for example, with leaders who love to call themselves “honorable” but who do patently dishonorable things. Men could be cruel to fellowmen, as some wise philosopher of old once wrote: “Homo homini lupus” (Man is wolf to fellow man). Could that man who pulled the trigger and downed an airliner with 295 people on board really have no clemency at all? Could any one, in the name of ideology and in the name of the group he claims to represent really forego all clarity and compassion and resort to mass murder, and still rejoice that he did it?

Here is a telling lesson for me, for you … for everyone. I am not god, but like you, I believe in a personal God! But you and me who believe may not be godly, and this, my friend, is the big problem. We can proclaim one thing and live quite apart and different from what we claim we hold onto. There is a gnawing gap and a glaring mismatch between what we say we believe and we actually do. Right worship is, oftentimes, not accompanied by right behavior.

Here is a piece of good news for you and, most especially, me. And the good news is this. God cares. God loves. God is mighty, yes, but He is master, too, of leniency and clemency. God cares enough to even help up to pray “in sighs and groans that words cannot express.” God is patient, loving and kind enough to allow weeds to grow alongside the wheat. He even allows evil to triumph temporarily, so that good might come out in the end.

There is evil in the world. And we don’t have to go around looking for someone to blame all the time. We, too, by allowing ourselves to be co-opted into joining “sinful solidarity,” can unwittingly be instrumentalized by the evil one and thus, constitute what we described last week as “secondary evil.”

But in the end, God’s might triumphs. At the end of the day, God’s mercy wins and his justice is done for all the world to see. God Himself goes in solidarity with men and women, with the “Spirit coming to the aid of our weakness.”

God’s love triumphs and God’s clemency, characterized by clarity and compassion, challenges us all. Though mired in so much impatience and impulsiveness, we learn what it means to be like unto God, every step of the way, one step at a time, in all days, in all ways, and for always. We learn to be like unto God, a God like no other!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

FALLEN AND FRUITFUL!

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
July 13, 2014

FALLEN AND FRUCTIFYING!

I was in the flood-devastated areas just a month after typhoon Sendong unleashed its unprecedented wrath over Northern Mindanao some years back. Rains fell. Waters cascaded down from the denuded mountains, causing massive and sudden flooding over parts of Cagayan de Oro City, and brought humongous trunks of felled trees down Iligan City, causing the untimely deaths of scores of people who were stricken dead as they slept in the dark and dead of night.

Falling rain is usually a welcome gift from the heavens. It does not return empty handed, but makes the land bear fruit in plenty. This much, Isaiah tells us in the first reading. But rampaging floods carrying huge log projectiles are a different matter. They are destructive. They bring death, not just destruction … along with a whole lot of the usual hand-wringing from officialdom, looking for someone else to blame except themselves.

But come to think of it, natural calamities are simply that – natural. We cannot control them. We cannot prevent them. We cannot, even at times, predict them, as in the case of earthquakes. But calamities that are directly caused by humans, like wanton and illegal logging, and the rape and pillage of mother nature are a different matter. Natural calamities, of themselves, are not evil, per se. They are all part of the law imprinted in the world of nature itself. But human neglect, human greed and selfishness, what theologians would refer to as “secondary evil,” are a totally different reality. They bear fruit. They bring a train of other evils. They cause the downfall of many, and affect the lives of many, for the worse, not for the better. They bring down suffering on innocent and helpless people, and untold misery to countless others.

This is suffering that happens due to the evil that other men and women do … evil that takes place when otherwise good people allow themselves to be instrumentalized by primary evil, Satan and his cohorts. But not all suffering can be traced back to either primary or secondary evil. Suffering is part of the whole complex of mystery of the human condition that arose when we fell into sin, subject as we all are to the ravages brought by original sin.

Today, our readings refer to this paradoxical situation of man subject to the effects of sin and the evil than people do, or evil that people allow themselves to be instruments of.

This kind of suffering falls like rain from some place up, unbidden, unwanted, undeserved. Such is the mystery of human suffering. Bad things do happen to good people, and evil men seem to triumph over good men. Good girls finish last, and good boys seldom make it to the top of the heap.

In such situations, it is easy for anyone, most of all myself, to lose hope and question God … What is the meaning of all this? What good can come out of this senseless evil?

God’s answer is unequivocal … Rain does not go back empty handed. It makes the earth fertile and fruitful. There is meaning behind the pain as there is a silver lining behind every dark cloud. “The sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”

Sendong brought untold tragedy to hundreds if not thousands. So did Pablo. And more recently, and much, much worse, Yolanda (Haiyan). When I first saw the massive destruction, I could not hold back tears. But now I see countless little miracles like plants abloom in dry deserts and in the midst of so much desolation: seeds sprouting life and hope to all who plant … fishermen getting back to the only livelihood they know after receiving boats that generous people give. From the tragic loss of lives and property and livelihood arose new hope from people they do not even know, from near and far.

But for these miracles to happen, ironically, they have to come from situations of brokenness. They come from experiences that have to do with falling, dying, and then moving on to rising once more.

And this, my friends, is the good news – the paradoxical nature of new life that arises from having to fall and die, so that the new might be born.

But, as in the case of Sendong, Pablo and Yolanda, there are victims and there are victims. There are those who fall and remain down, and those who fall, but strive to rise. There are those who give fruits in return and those that merely suck in what others painstakingly give. There are soils that enable and empower and soils that just receive, with nothing to give in return.

I would like to believe that the call today is for us to decide on what type of soil we ought to become. It is not about deciding not to fall, or not to be rained down upon, for into everyone’s life, some rain must fall.

Bring it on, then! Like the martyrs, like the saints, like everyone who fell in the darkness of night, for God’s sake, and for others’ sake, we will not fall down in vain. We might be down, but not out; stricken, but not written off; fallen, but still fructifying … a hundred, sixty, or thirty fold!




Friday, July 4, 2014

UNLIMITED LEARNING FROM THE LORD!


 He is the one and only UNLI!

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
July 6, 2014

UNLIMITED LEARNING FROM THE LORD!

I work once more in a complex school setting. Back here after 28 years, I move around circles and groups that deal daily with what is known as teaching-learning situations. One goes to school to learn. One listens to lectures and subjects oneself to routine in order to learn, hopefully, for life. Going to school may end with graduation, but learning is meant to be lifelong.

But there is learning that is lifelong and learning that is meant to last forever, without end, without limits … In the Philippines, we call it UNLI … short for unlimited. UNLI refers to unlimited calls provided by cellphone companies to hook loyal customers. It also refers to the craze of the day, that would probably cause more diabetic cases in future – UNLI rice! Popular restaurants now are competing themselves to death by offering unlimited rice for the price of budget meals.

Today, the Lord offers UNLI learning. He counsels us to learn from him, who is “meek and humble of heart.” That type of learning goes beyond graduation, and goes even beyond life in this world. It is not only lifelong learning, but learning for eternal life – the ultimate UNLI ever!

The first reading and the Gospel passage seem to dovetail with each other. Zechariah talks about a vision of a king who is not at all kingly, but one who is “savior, meek and riding on an ass.” The Gospel shows us that what Zechariah prophesied became real and personal in Christ. Even if he were “Lord of heaven and earth,”’ and even if “all things were handed over to him by the Father,” he remained UNLI in lowliness, simplicity, meekness and humility.

People who are proud are short fused. They have limited patience, limited understanding of the reality of life as God would have us understand it. They have a limited  grasp of spiritual realities, and see life in only two dimensions: the here and the now.

People with an UNLI mentality know that there is more to life than here and now. They know there is a third dimension that makes life UNLI … without limits, without borders, and without boundaries.

Many years ago, when I was young and impulsive, I had a very humbling experience in Europe, en route from Madrid to Lisbon, then Fatima in Portugal. People who are proud are always humiliated. But people who are humble and only humbled even more. They have an UNLI type of inner resources, that can only be acquired, not by rote learning, but by learning from the Master Himself!

That type of learning is focused on unlimited humility, unlimited meekness, and unlimited trust in the Lord.

Today, I lay claim to that UNLI load of what matters most in the end – lowliness, meekness and humility. And when one learns from the Master Himself, one also learns a whole lot more! …

His yoke is easy, and his burden light! What more can we ever ask for? It leads to UNLI happiness, UNLI life, together with God in UNLI Heaven, our ONLY true home! Amen! Let’s go UNLI then!