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Friday, October 24, 2014

LOVE COSTS. LOVE HURTS. LOVE HEALS. LOVE SAVES

30th Sunday Year A
October 26, 2014

LOVE COSTS. LOVE HURTS. LOVE HEALS. LOVE SAVES

Social media has apparently made the world a more loving, and more connected world. Yes … not even PLDT with its watchword “keeping you in touch” has ever succeeded as well as facebook to keep people in touch. Facebook, Google+, Linked In, Twitter and other micro-blogging networks have all edged out the voice-call industry in connecting people in real time.

Why, facebook has even redefined “friendship.” Google+ has invented a wide array of relationships, from circles, to family, to acquaintances, to close friendship. We are connected and related in every way imaginable.

But we can also ignore posts, statuses, twits, - and, yes – even “missed calls.” We can pretend like we never saw them, and just quietly remain a “lurker” rather than an active “liker.”

It means being connected, without really being engaged and involved.

The love that the readings speak of today cannot be the kind of relationships shown in social media. For many reasons.

First, one does not choose whom to consider “friend.” No one among us in his right mind would befriend an “alien,” an “orphan,” or a “widow” just so he or she can keep connected. But the kind of relationship that the first reading talks of is one of care and responsibility, and an involvement that is not just a business relationship. In fact there is no business here, as one does not stand to gain from such an involvement.

Second, it is not optional. It is a commandment. It is actually the greatest commandment of all.

And third, it costs. Anything important and of value, definitely costs, and this is true of love. For God. For neighbor. For family. For enemy.

The world makes it appear all too easy nowadays. To be a close friend (while being physically far) is as easy as clicking a button. But not all relationships click in real life. Not everyone could get that close to others, for reasons as many as there are people. I cannot please everyone I know, whether her or she is close to me or not. Even great friends I had once upon a time at some point become distant and uncaring, again, for reasons that one may not easily fathom. And not everyone approves of everything I do, or purport to do. In fact, there may actually be some people who, not only disapprove of me, but also do things to spite me, to hurt me, to and to put me down, for reasons best known to themselves.

The world, as we know it, is not as cozy as the world painted by social media, where likes dominate your wall, after you post an “impression managed” picture chosen from a batch of selfies that were taken a few minutes earlier (which, like “spare embryos” are willfully and casually relegated to the trash bin). The world can actually be a cruel place, and life can actually be unfair.

But this is the time when the great command takes center stage. This, too, is the time the same command becomes really costly. And the command demands a lot from me and you. Love costs. Love hurts. Love wounds.

But ultimately, love heals and love saves!

“Let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice; turn to the Lord and his strength; constantly seek his face.”
Tagaytay City

October 24, 2014

Saturday, October 18, 2014

AS WE OUGHT!



29th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A
October 19, 2014

AS WE OUGHT

Good, old Jose Feliciano crooned that “love comes from the most unexpected places.” Well, you and I know that very well. Amorous feelings come our way without us planning for them, wanting them, and developing them. Feelings come and go, of course, and, when the dust has settled, sort of, when feelings are gone, real love and commitment remain, whether feelings are there or not.

God’s graces and gifts, too, come through the intermediary of the most unexpected people … yes, including Cyrus who was idolized by the Jews for giving them back their liberty and self-esteem. The famous Edict of Cyrus gave the possibility for the Jewish exiles to go back to their promised land and rebuild their homes, their temple in Jerusalem, and reboot their lives once more (1st reading).

They say God writes straight with crooked lines. This time, according to the report of Isaiah, God simply writes straight. Period. No matter what the ulterior motives of Cyrus were … and have other motives, Cyrus most likely did! (a strategic tactical move? … an attempt at ingratiating himself to the Israelites and their neighbors? Your guess is as good as mine.)

I really have no axes to grind against the Cyruses of this world who might have other plans up their sleeves. But I do have a word or two to say about a God who can make use even of scheming potentates like Cyrus was, to do good to people that God loves.

I don’t know whether Cyrus really loved the Israelites, but I do know one thing … God surely loved His people and cared for them. And He made use of people like Cyrus to show and effect that love.

I don’t know how bad and cruel Saul was prior to his encountering the Lord and getting converted, but I do know one thing … God has done marvelous works through Paul and He was behind his dramatic turnaround for the better. God does write straight for the benefit of His people. Today, we have a brilliant example of it. Paul thanks God profusely for the Thessalonians who, despite their attachment to God, had to go on with their “work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope.” (2nd reading).

Even today, we have reason to thank God for the grace of martyrdom for many Christians who suffer ignominious and cruel deaths for their faith – unreported, unheralded – even unmourned by the rest of the indifferent world, under the hands of people who hate everybody else who does not belong to their group. Even today, we can thank God, for despite having to be loyal to the many unpredictable and unworthy Caesars in this world here and now, we still find it in our hearts to “give what is due to God, and to give what is due to Caesar.”

My task today is not to give in to rants and complaints about the worthiness or otherwise of the Caesars that populate our world where we are. But my task, as preacher, is to highlight what everyone of us is called to, by God, who can write straight through crooked people like the many Caesars and Caesar-wannabes that dot the political landscape.

And my point is simple and clear – as clear as the point of Isaiah and Paul and no less than the Lord Himself who, today counsels us: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Yes, dear Juan and Juana de la Cruz (or dear John Doe & Virginia, as the case may be) … there is life beyond politics. There is life beyond the narrow confines of limiting and constricting earthly ideologies. There is more to life than merely shouting and hollering slogans and self-serving clamors. There is more to life than just living here and now, in this valley of tears. There is a thing called “work of faith, labor of love, and endurance in hope” … all at the service of what “God has prepared for us” … eternal life, no less … and what He has in store for us, is both literally and figuratively “out of this world!”

Onward Christian soldiers! “Shine like lights in the world as you hold on to the word of life. Alleluia. Alleluia!” (Gospel acclamation). As we ought!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

IN WANT. IN PLENTY. BLEST. IN ALL THINGS!



28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
October 12, 2014

IN WANT. IN PLENTY. BLEST. IN ALL THINGS!

Everybody loves a feast. Fiesta, in rustic Philippine settings, had always been a day to look forward to and look back to. It was, and still is, a time to splurge, a day to be thankful, an occasion to celebrate. All sorts of mirth-making are done with abandon, at least for one whole day in the year.

Fiestas in the Philippines refer to ALL. All are invited. All are happy. All are in the mood to act and behave like life is good … all the time. All stops are figuratively pulled to do that once-a-year celebration without restraint.

Why do I think of such things today, you might ask? Simple. All three readings are profuse about giving all, doing all, sharing all … to all … for all sorts of reasons … “in verdant pastures,” with “cups overflowing,” “all the days of our lives.”

I am one who can appreciate a glass of good, rich, choice wine. (I learned to during my Roman sojourn many suns and moons ago!). I used to look forward to fiestas even during seminary days when the irrepressible special “pancit canton” and “camaron rebusado” would be served  … (nowadays, it’s spaghetti and Jollibe style “fried chicken!”). And the best was what everyone really anticipated with much gusto – “ice cream for all!” (even if it was nothing more than what we called “dirty ice cream,” now referred to in plain marketing genius as “artisanal ice cream!”)

But now, fried food does not do me good. Batter-laden stuff does not get me excited, and since I need to watch my sugar, I scream for ice cream that has more ice than cream (and sugar!).

But let me tell you one thing. I look forward to what all three readings tell us. I look with excitement at the “feast of rich food” that God has prepared for “all peoples.” And yes! … I still love mountains! I like the image of this rich feast that He has prepared “on this mountain!”

Yes … I look forward to heaven our only true home. Yes … I still believe that being lowly and humble does have a way to lead us to some place higher, up on God’s mountain of salvation! A long, long time ago, in one of my travels in Europe, I learned this for life: that the humble cannot be humiliated … ever … they can only be humbled even more.

Back in the day, we never had what everyone now takes for granted: fast food, quick chow, instant this and instant that … instant everything. We prepared “tableas” (cacao tablets that would be made into thick chocolate drinks) by hand. We went through the whole nine yards just to prepare ground coffee ready for brewing. We had no running water, nor LPG stoves. No … we had to chop firewood and fetch water. And looking forward to fiestas did not mean getting one’s phone from one’s pocket and making a mean call for delivery 24/7 of some food associated with “happy” and “joy.” Joy then, in fact, had nothing remotely related to chicken.

I envy those invited to the wedding feast in the parable. They did not have to chop wood and fetch water, but they were called to come and partake of the feast. But they refused to come.

I would like to think that in our times, fiestas (at least the kind we used to look forward to), are easy to come by. Plastic money and sprawling malls everywhere have made that all too easy and possible to do everywhere.

But my thoughts and desires now point and lead to some place higher, some place nobler, some reality greater. And what do I see? All are called to God’s mountain. All are invited to His brand of good food and rich, choice wine. All are called, even in their lowliness, to go up higher and “do all things in Him who strengthens us.”

I have been in want in earlier days, like most Pinoys were – and are! I have seen plenty, too, to be fair – then, and now. But whether in want or in plenty, there is one thing I know for sure … I am blest. I am called. I am invited. Then. Still. Even now, even here. “I shall live in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life!”

Are you dressed and ready for that glorious occasion? And that does not happen only once a year, but “all the days of my life … and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.”

Friday, October 3, 2014

WHAT RETURN SHOULD I MAKE?

27th Sunday Year A
October 5, 2014

WHAT RETURN SHOULD I MAKE?

I love dogs. I once had 5 of them – in stark contrast to now that I only have two. I think I take good care of them.  I say this because the readings today speak also of love and solicitude – the overwhelming love of God for a people represented by a vineyard on a fertile hillside. Isaiah tells us that there was nothing the vineyard’s owner did not do for his vineyard. But Isaiah goes on … the vineyard did not produce as expected. And there was nothing that could lead anyone to question the reaction of the sorely disappointed owner.

“Tell me,” Isaiah seemed to say, “could you blame me for feeling this way?”

One reason I like dogs is they ostensibly seem to know how to return attention for attention; loyalty for tender loving care; obedience in return for its master’s solicitude. We all want to feel important time and again. We all want to feel attended to and followed loyally once in a while. And truly, after a long tiring day, whether it comes from other people or more modestly, from a mongrel, does not really matter, at least from the psychological point of view. Now, tell me … Could you blame me for not making light of my furry friend’s utmost attention and obedience after a grueling day at work?

And since we are talking of dogs, let us push the envelope a little more … Aesop talked about a dog with a bone who crossed a little bridge over a placid pond. The clear pond happened to reflect the image of what looked like another dog with a bone. Now the dog wanted it. At all cost. Cost what might. He barked. Furiously. Greedily. At the other dog. To get the other bone, too. He barked to get and grab, not to make a return favor.

Too bad, the world is caught up in that model of the greedy, avaricious dog of Aesop. That is the story of Isaiah’s friend whose vineyard did not bother to make any worthwhile return for all the care it had received.

Too sad the world is taken up by so much anxiety. We are barraged by news of people in power, whose appetite for more power is beaten only by an even greater desire for more wealth. A bone in the mouth is simply not of equal worth to the bone in the pond. A bone in the mouth … and one more, to be grabbed from the other menacing dog below is the ultimate wealth! The grace we receive from God right here right now always appears less than what people feel entitled to nowadays. Our sense of entitlement, living as we do in a world characterized by a narcissism epidemic, simply won’t get satisfied like the vineyard that was provided with a hedge, a wine press, a tower, plus an army of caring tenants! And the tragedy was that the vineyard had nothing to give in return.

Now, tell me: Could you blame the good Lord for telling this parable? The focus, however, shifts from the vineyard, to the tenants who were placed there to make the vineyard productive. And this is where the story really gets nasty … This is where we all find ourselves in, and I am no longer referring to dogs and the like, no matter how loyal and obedient they may be.

Please now, I beg you to leave the innocent dogs out of this. After all, they act, not out of goodness of malice, but out of instinct. They don’t have manners. They really don’t recognize favors done to them. They can only instinctively obey the one who owns the hand that feeds them. They really can make no return, and they have no understanding of ROI – return of investment.

But we do. Humans that we are, we definitely do. We receive favors. We are loved by God. Unconditionally. Prodigally. Undeservedly!

But what do we do? We do exactly like the tenants … blame and maul the hapless messenger and errand boy … reject the prophets sent from above … reject the One and Only Son sent to save us. We sin. We disobey. We disregard His teachings.

Today, we could learn a lesson or two from the tenants, if not from dogs. Dogs, at least, instinctively seem to return favors. They lick. They like. They sit, roll over, and do tricks. Tenants, despite the favors, can reject, refuse, resist, and rebel.

But you and I are human beings made much more than dogs, in point of fact, a little less than angels. And we can do better than the wicked tenants, can’t we? We can recognize. We can acknowledge. We can profess and proclaim. And we can make a promise.

Let us do one today and resolve to reciprocate God and His loving mercy. What return can you make for all the gifts given to you?

Marasbaras, Tacloban City
Philippines
October 3, 2014