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Saturday, November 29, 2014

WATCH FOR THE LIGHT!

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November 30, 2014
1st Sunday of Advent Year B

WATCH FOR THE LIGHT!



I borrow my title from a book of readings for Advent and Christmas by Plough Publishing (2001). Where I am, Christmas lights are beginning to take center stage everywhere. Advent just happens to begin today, but we Filipinos have little appreciation for waiting when it comes to Christmas. We are, by and large, a very patient, and even, long-suffering people, but Christmas simply is not something we wait for … No … we celebrate it well in advance, with malls and music halls taking the lead. Why, Christmas has begun in the airlanes yet last September!



We may have one of the most expensive power rates in the world, but we sure know how to splurge when it comes to lights well before the Feast of Lights actually comes around. We very literally, and figuratively, watch for the light.



Drivers all over the country know what this means. Defensive driving means, among many others, the capacity to watch for the often non-existing tail lights of cars and rickety buses and trucks – for sheer survival! Driving at night especially in the countryside is almost like playing Russian roulette, when stalled vehicles without tail lights or the required EWD (early warning device) abound on the road itself or by the road side.



One needs to watch for the light (or the sheer absence of light!) if you want to arrive at your destination whole and entire.



Today, first Sunday of Advent (which means “coming”), we watch for the light. Light here means a number of things. Let us unpack each of them.



The first reading from Isaiah refers, I would like to believe, to the “light” of self-awareness and self-acceptance. Isaiah shows us the way to self-understanding … “We are like polluted rags,” he says. But having said that, he also claims with certainty: “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter.” How’s that for a basis for an enlightened existence? Guilty beyond reasonable doubt though we may be, we are loved by God beyond imagination!



Paul’s letter to the Corinthians sheds further encouraging light. We are awash in grace, he says … “enriched in every way,” and “called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”



The Gospel, for its part, issues a spiritual EWD, an evangelical early warning device … “Be watchful! Be alert!” he counsels us.



I don’t go out too often in our hopelessly clogged roads at night. But there are times the call of duty forces me to drive through the city even if I have no intention to. Driving around Metro Manila and all over the country for that matter is exactly like what Advent season is partially about. Advent is all about watching and waiting, and one cannot do much active watching and waiting without paying attention to the presence (or sheer absence) of light!



I know in my heart that Christ is coming back at the end of time. I know by faith that the world as we know it, along with its glories, are fast drifting away. I know that there is an end of this world as we know it and that there will be a final judgment for both the living and the dead, and that there will be a time when the dead shall rise again precisely to face the ultimate judgment.



But we people tend to forget, as always, as ever. We see all the material lights around us and take notice of all the glitter and the glamor beside us, but miss the spiritual lights of self-introspection and the free and conscious decision to change our ways. We see the material lights exploding in our face, but not the light of conversion and repentance that are both essential needs and realities that stare us in the face. “We have become like unclean people and all our good deeds are like polluted rags.”



We need to take in earnest what we prayed for after the second reading: “Show us, Lord, your love; and grant us your salvation!”



A wise counsel from Isaiah, Paul, and the good Lord Himself for today … Look out for that EWD! Watch for the light! “You do not know when the time will come.”




Friday, November 21, 2014

RULING, LEADING, SHEPHERDING


Solemnity of Christ the King
November 23, 2014
 
RULING, LEADING, SHEPHERDING

We have rulers who govern and reign over us. We need them for we belong to a civilized society. Whether we like it or not, politics of the worst kind and Politics of the good kind color and impinge upon our everyday daily affairs, even if most of what we do have nothing to do with political, partisan affairs.

To be honest with you, I have had enough of the type of dysfunctional politics of the worst kind in my own beloved country. For decades, we have had to choose between evil people and less evil people; between the media-created popular characters and those whose passport to power is very simply put, money – that begets more money and more fame and even more fortune – for generation upon generation.

Today, the whole Church speaks about a ruler, a leader and a shepherd, too. He was not born into wealth and all that wealth could buy. He had no pedigree that remotely approximates power associated with the dirty politics of the worst kind that my country is notorious for. He was born of a working-class family – skilled, no doubt – but nevertheless a lowly trade that was carpentry.

But his leadership came not as an accident of history. No … it was actually prophesied centuries in advance: “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.”  From the words of Ezekiel, we learn how God, in His infinite wisdom, would work gradually towards the fulfillment of a vision proclaimed through the prophet Ezekiel.

But caring shepherd that he was meant to be, the ruler was not “programmed” to be a wimp. He was also raised to be a judge: “I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.” Again, leader that he was called to be, his lordship was not one characterized by brute strength and power, but by the mysterious power of self-donation – the ultimate point of which was his self-immolation – his death on the cross. By so doing, he showed who really had the goods that mattered more than anything else: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead came also through a man … The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Today’s solemnity, for all the frustrations and hopelessness that I see in a country so torn and battered by the nation’s biggest criminal syndicate that is government, gives me unsurpassed hope for the undefined and uncertain future, from a purely human point of view. From the earthly viewpoint, the future is uncertain, and definitely, dark. And only those deep in denial will continue to hold on to the romantic dream that somehow, things will get better while the big-time honorable crooks continue laughing their way to the banks!

But wait! There is something more to our lives as believers than just the reality of the culture of sin of which we all are part, “for we all have fallen short of the glory of God.”

And this is what we continue to hold on and pin our best and brightest hopes in! … Not in an ideology … not on  another wistful and romantic dream … neither on a political strategy no matter how bright and cogent and convincing.

Today, I choose to pin my hopes on a ruler, leader, and shepherd who, according to God’s plan and will, will be the ultimate victor … Christ! Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, after he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.”

The grass withers, the flower fades, so says the Holy Book, but the will of the Lord remains forever. Rulers come; despots go. Honorable criminals may abound now, but only the Lord shall reign forever and ever. And talking about earthly rulers, there is definitely a time for reckoning … when sheep shall be separated from goats. God’s justice shall definitely prevail in God’s own good time, that is, when He comes again, at the end of the ages!

Are you still worried sick that things seem so utterly hopeless? Chin up, my friends! “The Lord is my shepherd (and ruler and leader); there is nothing I shall want!”

Saturday, November 15, 2014

VALUE BEYOND PEARLS

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
November 16, 2014

VALUE BEYOND PEARLS

We all want security. We all look for safeguards against an uncertain future. And so, people invest and put their money in security bonds and pre-need plans. Yes … even if the very same pre-need and security companies in the Philippines actually lack security and eventually fold up, owing to a multiplicity of factors, not excluding being involved in erratic and dysfunctional Philippine politics.

People invest because they believe in ultimate value, not necessarily of money now, but of emerging needs that would require tons of money later. But there are simple investors and wise investors. The former just think in terms of what they can get in return for what they place today, and mind you, what they mean is hefty returns in cash! But smart investors who see value beyond money and beyond pearls and precious metals and gems, invest in stuff that do not necessarily glitter … here and now.

They invest in persons! And a wise man who marries a worthy wife knows deep inside that he is worth more than one who won the jackpot in the lottery. “Entrusting his heart to her, [he] has an unfailing prize.”

We Christian believers who deeply also belong to a community called the Church know in our hearts that the value of things goes beyond its usefulness here and now. For one, we know that life as we know it, is fast drifting away. We know, too, that for all our efforts at trying to corner “peace and security,” the same cannot be had in this mortal, fickle world. We know better, for “we are not of the night or of darkness,” but “we are children of the light and children of the day.”

Yes, we believers do appreciate REAL VALUE and attach it to where it matters most. Yes, we do believe in investing, too! And there is nothing sinful about putting some money tucked some place for a rainy day, even as there is nothing sinful about creating legitimate wealth for oneself, one’s family, and for others.

And since we are in the topic of healthy and legitimate investing, let us pursue the issue further. The Gospel actually rewards those who used the talents they received to produce even more! And the same gospel parable actually finds it reprehensible that the one who got one talent simply buried it and returned it as it was – a lone, miserable talent that produced no usufruct for himself and for his lender.

We all want peace and security. We all want to invest properly and legitimately. And there is nothing wrong with wishing to gain something from both. But we Christian believers want more – real value that goes beyond compounded interest in cash! And so, we train our sights and use all that we have – our talents – as capital to work for and attain that whose value goes far beyond pearls, far beyond earthly material wealth! What is that pearl of great price you might ask? No less than He who surpasses all as creator of all – God Himself and His gift of salvation. That, my friend, is the ultimate peace and security!

“Remain in me as I remain in you, says the Lord. Whoever remains in me bears much fruit.”

Lawa-an, Talisay City, Cebu

November 15, 2014

Saturday, November 8, 2014

ONE FOR ALL; ALL FOR ONE!


Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran
November 9, 2014

ONE FOR ALL; ALL FOR ONE!

There are many ways to approach the readings of today. Two are readily available at hand. The first is to focus on the righteous anger of Christ, directed against those who have turned the temple into a marketplace. Indeed, one artist by the name of Alfonso Osorio depicts an “angry Christ” in the Church of St. Joseph the Worker in Victorias City, Negros Occidental. Another is to focus on the readings’ spiritual meaning for us here and now, and therefore, to see beyond the material temple that Jesus the Lord was speaking of, towards our self-understanding as collectively, the new “temple” that offers worship to the God Christ felt righteously angry for.

The first is enveloped in layers of hermeneutical nuances that would make this reflection more a Bible-study session than an exhortation. The second is what seems to be indicated by our needs for here, for now.

We all look for a rallying point, something, some place or someone we can all identify with, for us to have meaning in all we do and who we are. For serious mountaineers all over the world, the ultimate rallying point, of course, is Everest. For all serious climbers, their motto could as well be: “Never rest, till Everest.”

We Catholics also have a similar rallying and reference point. We have Churches all over the world now, but tradition and early Christian history continue to offer the Church of St. John Lateran as the “mother of all Churches,” the original and still actual Cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of Rome.

But that piece of Christian trivia is hardly worth celebrating and gushing for. A historical datum, no matter how important, will be good only to know and remember, not to celebrate for.

We celebrate something more. And for us to know why, we need to look at the spiritual symbolisms and their respective meanings that jut out of the readings. Ezekiel talks about “life giving waters” coming from the temple. The second reading speaks about us becoming and being “God’s building” – nay, even the “temple of God” where the “Spirit dwells.” And the Gospel passage, more than reporting about the controversial “angry Christ” really refers more to the temple of his body. He actually used the anger as a stepping stone to teaching his followers about Him being the promised and awaited Redeemer, who has come to fulfill what Scriptures of old prophesied.

The burden now, is on us … Do we remain in our superficial and meaningless anger about many things, or do we use our anger to energize us to do the right things and to do them rightly, for God’s sake, not ours? Are we to remain like the dry Arabah desert that is lifeless, or are we to bear fruit in plenty for the life of the world, like Christ did? Are we, for that matter, to remain in our fractiousness and divisiveness instead of becoming one Body, one Bread, one People, one Church, and one Community of believers?

The Church of St. John Lateran stands as eloquent symbol of what we are called to be – to Oneness in Faith and in life. St. John Lateran, “mother of all Churches,” is one for all. And we are called to rally behind her, behind our Mother Church, and become All for one … one faith, one baptism, one Church, with one God and Father of all.