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Saturday, August 30, 2014

GETTING IT RIGHT, BUT MISSING THE POINT!


22nd Sunday Year A
August 31, 2014

GETTING IT RIGHT, BUT MISSING THE POINT!

Jeremiah was a curious fellow … He was, well … like you and me! We all get some things right, but we also miss the whole point at times! I get it, for one, that life is difficult, as good, old Scott Peck told us years ago. We also know that life is complex, beyond merely being difficult. We get it, don’t we?

But of course, getting things right is no guarantee we get the whole point … at least not that soon. Jeremiah got it. And he complained big time! “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me and you triumphed.”

I, too, rant and rave big time. For many reasons, reasonable or otherwise. I do right here, right now. Do I deserve to be suffering so much for trying to solve problems I did not create? Should I just accept blindly my lot to be now at the receiving end of so much dissatisfaction, even hatred, for trying to fix things for the ultimate good of the institution I work for?

“You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped!” I get it … Life, is, indeed, difficult and complex. But why is that?

Peter, whom we extolled last week as the “rock,” got it too. “Ok,” he thought … he was going to be the unassailable Gibraltar of the Lord’s incipient Church. He was meant to be more than the legendary Rocky Balboa! He was called to be the foundation stone of what the Lord was in the process of building.

He got it alright, but wait! He seemed to miss the whole point today, big time! When the Lord began talking about persecutions and sufferings and death, he rose to the occasion and claimed his status as Rocky Steadfast. He chided the Lord, much more quickly than he could confide in his wisdom: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”

Yes, I get it Lord. Life is difficult. For me. For everyone. I get it, too, Lord. I need to follow you … not my dream, not my personal vision-mission, not even my ambition, but simply you!

But I miss the whole point, like Peter. Like Jeremiah … at least in the beginning. I think “not as God does, but as human beings do.” Sometimes, in my discouragement and despondency, I act more like Satan, and a lot less like Rocky Steadfast.

The whole point today is clear. Let us take it from Jeremiah version 2 … Let us take it also from the upgraded version of Saul the persecutor who became Paul the prophet and protector of the faith … Jeremiah version 2 saw things right and later got the whole point: “But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones!” Saul extreme hater who became Paul supreme lover got the point too … “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

And now, for a final salvo … from our hero turned heel today (at least temporarily!) Peter who was called “rock” but today also called an obstacle …

He got a mouthful from his Master and Lord … “Whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

He missed it big time, not once but thrice. He denied the Lord thrice!

But this is the good news for today … He got the whole point eventually. Even if he was dragged kicking and screaming to his crucifixion upside down, het got the whole point …Eventually. Ultimately. Gloriously!

Don’t you get it yet?


P.S. I ask my readers to pray for me today. It’s my nth birthday … and, old as I am, there’s still a lot for me to do, to get the whole point!

Friday, August 22, 2014

INSCRUTABLE AND UNSEARCHABLE ARE HIS WAYS!


21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
August 24, 2014

INSCRUTABLE AND UNSEARCHABLE WAYS OF GOD!

Life is full of mysteries. They say that life in its totality is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. Indeed … There comes a time in one’s life when one has to accept the wisdom behind seemingly senseless and meaningless things and events. One such reality that begs for acceptance, not resistance, is the mystery of whatever our status in life is. Some get more keys than others (read: more responsibilities). Some get the most coveted key (read: the choicest appointive position). Still others get no keys whatsoever (read: they are just part of the hoi polloi – the many and the unknown; the plebeian foot-soldiers who soldier on without much fanfare and recognition). And then some are left with the task of holding the door for other people, and not much else!

Eliakim was one such individual whom the Lord saw as worthy enough to be given the “key of the House of David,” a foreshadowing of one other form of keys that will be fodder for thought from the Gospel reading. And this leads me to the key thought for today, the 21st Sunday in ordinary time. And that key idea is that position, title, power base, promotion and the holding of privileged places and posts do not have much to do primarily with merit and personal worthiness, but a lot to do with the greater and bigger mystery of God’s choice and God’s will.

Throughout history, there have been good Popes and bad Popes. There is no need for me, or anyone else to deny that, or cover that up. Whilst the Lord, we are told, called Peter a “rock” on which he meant to build His Church, the reality is that there were those who were more of stumbling blocks than solid rock of stability and strength. Even now, even here, I know of some bishops, who, from the purely human point of view, do not deserve anything, definitely not their august position as Ordinary, but they did get the choice, which in our catholic faith we believe to be ultimately God’s choice and God’s will. (I even know of one who holds the highest position in the land who definitely does not even deserve to be President of a homeowners’ association!)

But life, like I said, is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.  Let us take it from Paul. He waxes lyrical in his letter to the Romans: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!”

That sort of puts me in place for today! Me and my foolish thoughts! Who am I to think about how unworthy certain people are of their positions! Who am I to presume that many of them are not the least bit deserving of whatever it is they hold (and boy, do some of them really feel the power and the glory emanating from their mouth, ears, hands, and feet!)

Today, as a loyal Catholic believer, I pledge my allegiance to the Pope and his bishops and priests. Many of them are rocks of faith and good example. Some, I already said, bring nothing but shame to the Church and society. But one thing that I can never deny is the fact that God, who makes the choice, ultimately does not err, and even his “mistakes” from the human point of view, can be used for the furtherance of ultimate good.

The last six Popes that spanned my lifetime, so far, have all been rocks of sanctity and fidelity. I am well aware, being once a student of history, that I cannot say the same about the likes of Pope Alexander VI, Julius II, Paul III, Pius VI, Boniface VIII and Paul II! Those of you who love sleaze might want to google them for the sake of your curiosity.

But I have one message for you today – in connection with that key thought I spoke about above. Yes, life is a mystery. And yes … God’s will is even more mysterious. His ways, like we said, are inscrutable and unsearchable. You cannot google God’s will and God’s plan. But mystery does not translate to impossibility. Mystery does not mean illogicality. Mystery does not equate with senselessness and gross inanity. The mystery of his love and his choice all have to do with his overall plan for each and everyone of us, and for the world that he loves to the hilt.

My task right here, right now is to accept even what appears to be unacceptable. My job is to make myself at home even with what appears insufferable. I cannot accept the fact, for example, that there are still people who kill in God’s name; and terrorists who wage war in God’s name … even if they call themselves followers of a religion of peace! Even in my pain, I cry out, as did the psalmist: “Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands!”

Today, though, there is one thing you and I need to, not only accept, but also proclaim with all our might and strength … Yes, bad Popes notwithstanding … bad bishops and priests though there may be (and I may be one of them), the Word of the Lord is clear and unmistakable, although certainly inscrutable and unsearchable: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

Need I say anything more?


Saturday, August 16, 2014

HAVE PITY ON ME, LORD!


20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
August 17, 2014

HAVE PITY ON ME, LORD, SON OF DAVID!

Isaiah gives a piece of advice so clear and unmistakable; so straightforward and so irreproachable: “Observe what is right, do what is just.”

Well, let us start with something not so right … Yes … not so right for purists then who knew their boundaries, and who knew better than to mess up with women like that one derisively referred to as “Canaanite,” who lived in the district of Tyre and Sidon.

She deserved nothing from any self-respecting man and from a Jew, for that matter. She was totally out of bounds. And she did something totally expected, but totally uncalled for … In her extreme need, born of remarkable faith, she did the unthinkable (though expected!) … She approached the Lord and pleaded with Him in faith: “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!”

But the Lord, it must be said, also did the unthinkable. He, it must be further said, took the first step and opened Himself to being vulnerable … “Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.” He went out of bounds Himself. He went right through pagan – and hated – territory!

Good things happen for those who venture out in charity. Great things happen for those who venture out in faith and hope. And wondrous things happen when both God and suffering humanity venture out in search for one another, in order for both to do what Isaiah counseled: “observe what is right, do what is just.”

It is never right for me to think I deserve God’s help and God’s grace. I don’t deserve it. My salvation, His grace, and everything I am and have, all comes from His great and overflowing mercy. “What do I have that I have not received?” But whilst it is never right, like for me to think God owes me what I need and ask for, it is also never wrong. I don’t deserve His love, but not deserving it does not mean He does not give me what I don’t deserve strictly speaking. God loves me. God cares for me. God wills to save me. And the truth is that He has – and still – goes beyond bounds simply because He loves me and wants my salvation.

I feel like the hated Canaanite woman. I don’t strictly deserve to even do so much as show my dumb face before the august presence of the Lord. But I take it that He has gone to hated territory of Tyre and Sidon. I take it that He has gone near to where I am, in a country full of corrupt politicians and corrupt citizens like you and me … myself above all! I take it that despite my unworthiness there is something that He sees in many of us … something that He would like to see, too, in all of us … And that something has to do with what that despised woman showed herself that no one in his or her right mind can ever miss … the hope, the faith, the oozing belief that for God, nothing is ever impossible.

The suffering Christians in Iraq and Syria live in those hated territories. They are literally hated by those who do not share their faith and belief systems. The sufferings that we Filipinos have endured, and been enduring ever since we tried to banish corruption and dictatorship from our sun-blest lands, are nothing compared to what our neo-Christian martyrs in Iraq and Syria have undergone – and still – undergo.

Like the Canaanite woman, I draw near to you O Lord. Like the despised woman, I beg you O Lord, and I pray, like everyone who knows he or she does not deserve what is being asked for, but which nevertheless I utter … born more of hope, urged on even more by faith, than human desperation: “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!”

Son of David! … The despised woman had faith! The one who knew she deserved nothing believed and hoped and called Him for what He was – the promised Messiah … the gift of the Father from above!

I deserve nothing Lord … I am, at times way beyond the pale of decency on account of my selfishness and sins … I am, all too often, out on the fringes of those who do justice and do rightly. I am, and have lived so deeply in disobedience. But you have come near to where I am … to a land of sin and corruption; of selfishness and greed; of indifference and lack of social justice and charity.

I pray to you in hope. Have mercy, Son of David! I pray to you in faith. Have mercy, Son of David! Wallowing as we are in disobedience, we know by faith, that You, O Lord, will have mercy upon all!

Friday, August 8, 2014

WHISPERING HOPE!

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19th Sunday Year A

August 10, 2014



WHISPERING HOPE



One old, old Christmas song goes by the title “Whispering Hope.” I am sure everyone knows it by heart. It has to do basically with “rumors of angels,” giving hope to a world enslaved to sin, and its most disastrous effect – hopelessness.



I love nature. I have climbed dozens of mountains and forded countless rivers and have swum in many seas, both here (where I am) and abroad. Noisy and thunderous rivers there are that give a mighty roar offer a frightening message: “Don’t mess up with me if you are not prepared and ready to risk life and limb.” Three years ago, I, and some young priests I was giving a seminar to, discovered that first hand. Lucky me, I did not join them that time. Their boat capsized towards the end of their white water rafting adventure.



I love dogs. There are dogs that give such a row and rousing cacophony of snarls and growls and menacing barks. But experience tells me that for many dogs with such garrulous natures, their bark is actually worse than their bite. But I fear those silent ones that quietly glare at you with determined stares … and unimpressed, non-wagging tails.



Loud and noisy threats alone do not announce the coming of a battle-hardened and courageous general. In my years in leadership, particularly after doing so many fund-raising campaigns and the like, not all those who proclaim and announce their pledges for all men to hear actually make good their promises. On the contrary, it is the silent ones, who don’t ask for an accounting of the money they have not yet given, who end up contributing generously, in their own quiet, unassuming ways.



I love Elijah. He was not exactly one who would keep silent and still when his powerful voice was called for. He did not fade quietly into the night, but was whisked away dramatically on a chariot – definitely not a quiet way to go! But that is not what I love him for. I like Elijah because he was one who could see beyond the noise and the fanfare, and look deep down into the essences of things, and see  what needed to be seen … for what it was, for who it was, even minus the sound and the fury.



I talk about God whispering hope to so many hopeless souls – a God now effectively shunted aside by the deafening noise of materialism and hedonism – two big words that hide behind the noisy and threatening allure of the faddish and the fashionable, brought about by the omnipresent and almost omnipotent mainstream media, and – for the local Philippine scene – a ridiculously inane “showbiz culture.”



I think about the sick, the poor, the suffering, and the forgotten: the homebound, the wheelchair-bound, the retired old teachers and honest public servants who are living out their twilight years practically alone, uncared for, unwanted, unappreciated and unheralded in their quiet lives, not of desperation, but of martyrdom. The God that they believe in does not come in as a swashbuckling hero with promises that sound like the annual SONA speech of someone whose noisy perorations and promises make it appear like he is the single biggest greatest thing that ever happened to the country and to humanity.



My thoughts go to simple people who, despite their poverty and want, could still find it in their hearts to part with what little they have because there were millions who had far less on account of the disastrous typhoon that wiped out the lives of thousands, and the livelihood of millions of people.



In the silence of their sorrowing and suffering existence, they find God who reveals Himself, precisely not in and through the voices of the comfortable and the powerful, but in and through the simple, still voice of the “tiny, whispering sound.”



Everywhere now, all over the world, there are strident voices that capture the attention – and the FEAR – of the lowly, the downtrodden, the forgotten, the last, the least, and the lowest. The terrorists now rule the day in both Iraq and Syria, threatening (and already actually snuffing out!) the lives of the minority Christians. Almost 300 people were blown out of the sky over the Ukraine, and nobody seems to take responsibility for the dastardly deed. In the local scene, billions of pesos have been stolen from the public coffers, reframed as “savings” and touted as instruments to prime the economy, but for which the perpetrators refuse to show proofs of defense other than the flimsy argument of “good faith.” Satan and his cohorts are very noisy and very noisily present in the world’s day-to-day affairs. The devil we know is active in the noise that masquerades as news to prop up political clans, parties, and dynasties and all the evil they do in “good faith.” The devil we do not know is also busy doing the rounds of mainstream media, institutions and even otherwise “honorable” and respectable institutions noisily preaching the postmodern virtue of tolerance for what is wrong, and still as noisily preach about intolerance for Christianity and, most especially, Catholicism and its teachings.



I personally feel like Paul, who, in today’s second reading, pours out his pain at the sight of so many rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, when all he knows is that he “speaks the truth in Christ.” Like him, “I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart.”



The world is caught up in a maelstrom of hate, intolerance and the evils of “man’s inhumanity to man.” The little boat of the disciples suddenly caught in the middle of a violent squall out on the raging sea is not a farfetched image of where the world is in right now, even as we talk. The waves are both violent and vicious. The fear of the disciples is as real as it is realistic. Caught in such a predicament, it is easy for you and me (especially probably ME), to lose hope, to surrender to fear, and to curse the Lord for abandoning us.



But the Lord, who was silently in communion with His Father in prayer, was also thus in communion with everyone he loved and cared for. Prayer does not take us away from the objects of our love and solicitude. God is never a competition to our earthly cares and concerns, but is the world’s and humanity’s “ultimate concern,” that gives foundation and meaning to all other lesser concerns.



God is in charge. God cares despite what media tells us that “God is dead.” God loves us even if the world seemingly has forgotten us. But this truth is not something you can get from the noisy waves. This truth is not something one can arrive at in violence and viciousness; hatred and hubris; indifference and inattention. No … One has to listen and listen with one’s heart. “God is not in the wind … God is not in the earthquake … God is not in the fire.”



I won’t tell you where God is. He Himself tells us. You yourselves will discover that. God is present in stillness, simplicity, silence … God is present … God is. Period. And today is as good a day as any other for us to hear once more, with passion, not just with feeling … “Take courage. It is I; do not be afraid.”



He whispers life. He whispers salvation. He whispers hope!



“Lord, save me!” His answer is worth repeating: “Come!”

Saturday, August 2, 2014

BEING FED AND FULL VERSUS BEING VACUOUS AND VAIN


18th Sunday Year A
August 3, 2014

BEING FED & FULL VERSUS BEING VACUOUS AND VAIN

Everyone loves a good, succulent and tasty meal. Everyone loves to eat, plain and simple … The pleasure attached to eating is a gift from the Creator, and is part of the legitimate natural pleasures that assure the continuance of life – our own, and of everybody else.

The same principle is true for every natural human activity connected with life and its preservation and transmission, and that includes … yes … sexual activity within the right bounds.

But let me get back to food … Food was a major part of what the Jewish exiles in Babylon longed for more than anything else. They missed their spices and home cooking. They missed the sights, sounds and smells of home while exiled in foreign territory. But food was not the only thing they missed. Food was not the only thing they hankered for. Food may have been important for them as it is for us here and now, but we certainly don’t think of ourselves thinking about food every minute of every live-long day. If this is true for us, then, it is true for them as well.

Good news for today? We could use some of it. Just go and read the papers and look at the opinion columns and all. Most of what we see is bad news … the conflict between Israel and Hamas, for one … the ongoing battle royale between pro-Russian rebels and government in the Ukraine … the cruel and systematic persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria … the local political news on the home front … Excuse the pun, but I need to say it … We could be fed-up with all that bad news. We long for peace. We pine for unity and harmony. We hanker for that much sought after place for the Philippines under the sun and be part of the so-called “developed nations.”

Good news for today, you say? Let me start with bad news … We could be fed. We could be full. But that is not the good news I bat for, based on today’s readings. The response we uttered after the first reading says it all: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” True. But let me follow up what I just said. God answers “all our needs.” But “all our needs” does not just pertain to material food, no matter how tasty and good. He gives more than just food, but what food ultimately points out to – “life” in its fullness, not just temporary fullness. “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?”

I have been on this earth for some time now … been there; done that sort of thing. I have been through much. I have been through little. There was a time in my young life I longed for fine food. But in my experience, you could gorge on fine rich food only for so much … After taking delight in them, one realizes that fullness and fulfillment are not guaranteed by simply being filled. Being full and fed, may actually lead to feeling vacuous and vain. And I use “vain” here in its original meaning, that is, empty and meaningless.

Let me tell you now what is the good news hiding behind this apparent bad news. Yes, we can work for being fed and full. But if all we do is aim for that, it ultimately leads to being vacuous and vain.

Let me tell you now what is on offer for us beyond the seeming satiety that the world can offer … Let us try “love” for size today. This is what St. Paul tells the Romans … Nothing, he says, will separate us from the love of Christ … no … not anguish, not distress … neither persecution or famine, or nakedness or the sword. And definitely not hunger from the fine rich food that the world dangles before our eyes each and every single day! Yes, one does not live on bread alone!

But here is the clincher … The story of the Gospel today brings us back to the basics. Food is not the most important thing, but the Lord shows us that it is important. It is necessary. It is not superfluous. He feeds the five thousand people not counting women and children. God knows all our needs and the hand of the Lord feeds us.

Lesson for today for me and for you? Tying up all three readings, these are the few things that stand out:

God knows. God cares. And God nourishes our hunger … for food and for everything else beyond material food. The suffering Christians in Iraq and Syria are devoid of material food right now, and along with it, their freedom and dignity. They are suffering to the hilt. My heart goes out to them, even as the world ignores them and says nothing about their plight.

They are neither full and fed as of this moment. Their lives, in fact, are in mortal danger. But who am I to say that they live lives that are vacuous and vain? I have met up with people who are deep in the throes of suffering … for years, even for decades. But I have seen them talk about the love of God like as if they considered their sufferings as a privilege and a gift. I have seen dying people undergo so much pain and suffering, but in the midst of that hunger, pain and immense earthly sorrow, I saw too that their lives (and ensuing death) were anything but vacuous and vain.

“One does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Believe me. Been there; done that! Praised be the name of the Lord!