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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT! MARY MATTERS!



Solemnity of Mary Mother of God
January 1, 2015

MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT! MARY MATTERS.


Although we begin the New Year in the Philippines with a bang, we also begin it with a dose of essential dogma, all at the service of what really matters most, on the last day of Christmas Octave.

Make no mistake about it. This solemnity is not about ushering in a new civil year. Neither is it about making Christmas veer off tangent by introducing someone who sort of “steals the show” from Christ, the Lord, the one and only Savior, the one and only Redeemer, the one and only Son of God.

As a counselor myself, I am familiar with the concept of “reframing.” Basically, it means (among others) that when one wants to highlight the image, one also needs to consider the frame. A very good image set in an ugly frame would render the image less than the worth it deserves in the eyes of the beholder. Change the frame and one heightens the beauty and worth the image deserves.

The frame is not the image. The frame gives the image the centrality it deserves, and the frame’s function and role is considered essential to give the image the centrality and focus it should have.

Today, on the octave of Christmas, which is essentially a celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation, that is, when God’s Son took on flesh, we celebrate the central truth of the divine nature of Christ, Son of God. But we also celebrate the essential dogma that supports that central truth about Christ, which is the dogma of the Mother who rendered it possible for God to do what He did – effect the mystery of the Incarnation of His Son.

Make no mistake about it … Mary matters, but God remains the focus and center of all we celebrate in Church.

Make no mistake about it … Mary does not overshadow Christ, her  Son, but on the contrary, heightens who He is, by God’s design – divine, yet human … one Person (the 2nd Person of the Trinity), with two natures!

Make no mistake about it … We Catholics do not worship Mary. Neither do we deify a fellow mortal. Dogmas of faith when proclaimed by the Church, historically speaking, always came in the context of attempts at denial of the central tenets of Christian, Catholic faith. And when the dogma of Mary’s Divine Maternity was proclaimed officially, it was precisely to counteract the spreading rumors (read: heresies!) that said Jesus was only human, not Divine. (Does this sound very familiar to my Filipino readers?)

Make no mistake about it. Mary matters. For Christ matters most. Mary is important and the dogma about her divine motherhood is essential, for the prime reason that Christ, God’s Son and hers, is central to our faith. I can think of no other hymn to represent this than this one that I liberally would like to quote:

Mary the dawn, Christ the Perfect Day; Mary the gate, Christ the Heavenly Way!
Mary the root, Christ the Mystic Vine; Mary the grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the wheat, Christ the Living Bread; Mary the stem, Christ the Rose blood-red!
Mary the font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the cup, Christ the Saving Blood!

Mary the temple, Christ the temple’s Lord;
Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!

Mary the beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!

Mary the mother, Christ the mother’s Son
By all things blest while endless ages run. Amen. 


Make no mistake about it! Mary matters, if you consider Christ as center!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

LET ME COUNT THE WAYS: 1,2,3,4!



Christmas Day
December 25, 2014

LET ME COUNT THE WAYS: 1,2,3,4!

Something one does four times in a row must really be important. A celebration done fourfold must be meaningful, more than important. Something one repeats, not thrice but quatrice (if the word exists!) must be so important, meaningful and significant to the hilt.

I am reminded of Sonnet 43 that begins with the question: “How do I love Thee? Let me count the ways!”

How does God love us? Let us not give an answer by counting. You count things you want to manage and control. You measure things you want to manipulate towards a certain finality. You lose count when you lose all interest and capacity to even fully understand in a human way what is really beyond words, beyond description, although definitely not beyond belief.

Christmas is beyond words. This maybe the reason why we count four distinct celebrations, each with distinct readings, that all have each a different focus. So let us count … one at the vigil, one at midnight, one at dawn, and another one for good measure, during the day! And the last one, mind you, does not top it off … No! … It just begins the 8-day period of splurging surpassed only by the Easter octave!

The angels must have splurged themselves, singing endless hosannas of praise, prodigally proclaiming praises for the even more prodigal God, who loves us in ways that man cannot keep track of, nor count.

The shepherds were co-opted into glorifying God. The stars, the animals in the stable, the wise men – all men and women of good will! Those who could see beyond what their eyes focused on … those who saw more than what their feeble senses could feast on … those who could count, and those who couldn’t even count their sheep, the learned and the unschooled, the proud and the humble, the mighty and the lowly, the rich and the poor, and those who, despite being rich, were wanting in every other way.

Christmas is the story of you and me and them … those who waited and those who were waited on … those who suffered and those who rejoiced … those who grieved and those who rejoiced … those who knew the Messiah was coming and those who chose to simply ignore their need for God. The desire of the everlasting hills has come!

We Filipinos just love to splurge on Christmas. Just look at the number of hours we spend in horrendous traffic! Just look at the number of times we bore the lines, trying to get back to the unmoving traffic faster than the others who are equally trying to come back home, harassed, half broke, tired, but happy all the same! We Filipinos don’t count anymore … at how much we lost trying to make hundreds of beggars happy with a few coins … at how much sleep time lost because we wanted to make the spiritual number 9 ( the number of days of simbang gabi).

The question on Christmas is not “how much do I love Thee,” but “how much does God love us?” And that question begins with doing something so repeatedly, without feeling bored, harassed, and half broke … 1,2,3, and 4! Four different liturgies on the day Christ the Lord was born!

Tonight (or this morning, or today) you have made it to one. Congratulations! But no! Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will! Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

THE DESIRE OF THE EVERLASTING HILLS


4th Sunday of Advent – B
December 21, 2014

DESIRE OF THE EVERLASTING HILLS

I borrow the title of Thomas Cahill’s lovely prose and well-written “history” of Jesus of Nazareth. I like the title, first and foremost, for he speaks about Jesus having definitely made a difference in the long history of humankind. Even if recorded history, apart from the Bible, has precious little about him and details about his life and lineage, his coming or irrupting into human history definitely made a dent, for many, not just a few.

We are among the many today whose lives were impacted by the one who was promised three thousand years ago by Nathan, the prophet: “I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm … Your house and your kingdom shall endure before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.”

We are a people in waiting. We are a people, too, of the promise. We are filled with longing, wrapped up in an intense desire for something better, something higher, something nobler, something more beautiful and more fulfilling. We are a people of the longing. And yes, I take it from Fr. Rolheiser, too, that behind our desire, behind the earthly dreams and desires of every human being born of woman, is, at bottom, a deeply human and a deeply holy longing – a longing for God, ultimately the object of desire of the everlasting hills!

But Nathan’s promise was not an empty boast. Neither was it a shallow attempt at appeasing our dashed hopes and frustrated dreams. No … it was a promise. It was a prophecy … about God and His promises to His beloved people. This God is a God of promises, but He is even more a God of fulfillment.

The Gospel today dwells on that fulfillment of what was once promised – a full thousand years before it eventually took place.

Mary, the young woman through whom the promise was fulfilled, showed us what it means to be waiting, to be open to surprises, and open to challenges. Indeed, God surprised her with a visit of a messenger – Gabriel, who came with yet another promise: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”

The dream beyond all dreams … the object of all our longings and the desire of the everlasting hills has come in our midst in history. He is still coming to us in mystery and grace. And he will yet come again in majesty and glory.

But there is one important question we need to answer … Have we allowed him to make a difference in our lives up till now?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

FROM DENIAL TO DECLARATION


3rd Sunday of Advent-Year B
GAUDETE SUNDAY
December 14, 2014

FROM DENIAL TO DECLARATION

The Gospel passage of today reminds me of the unfortunate, dysfunctional politics that is in force in my country since time immemorial. Every big fish in government accused of so many things have one common response – deny, deflect, desist, and defame others!

This is a far cry from today’s humble approach shown by the focus of today’s gospel reading – St. John the Baptist. He could as well have been someone being interviewed by any of the warring giant networks’ team of overzealous reporters out to be make a scoop.  “Who are you?” … “What are you then?” … “Are you Elijah?” … “Are you the prophet?” “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?” “What do you have to say about yourself?”

Hmmm! … the questions sound familiar. They all sound like people who ask not to find out the truth, but to insist on their own brand of preconceived truth. The pressure must have been too much for one who was “sent from God,” and who “came for testimony, to testify to the light.”

Well, to be honest, John the Baptist, to me, passed with flying colors. He stood the test and held his ground. But for him to do so, he had to dispel some possible misconceptions from overzealous followers and uncritical hearers. He started out with denials: “I am not the Christ.” “I am not Elijah.” “I am not the Prophet.”

He might have stood his ground alright, but John knew his place! He knew the full truth about who he was, and what he was sent for. And, quite unlike our facebook statuses, and social media profiles, John knew his humble profile and held on to his lowly stature: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.”

A dirty politician, John definitely was not! A scheming and denying king, he was neither. For his denials, he was really leading his hearers to a monumental declaration: “I baptize with water; but there is one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

And this, my friends, is the reason why today, we need to rejoice. Gaudete! Rejoice in the Lord always!

And who should say that we should not rejoice? Take it from Isaiah, who knows his onions … “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.”

Rejoice not, because you got your bonus.  Rejoice not, because you have your new iPhone 6 (plus!). Rejoice not, because you have this or that. Be happy for them. Thank God for them. Be grateful for everything, but rejoice for something else, for some higher reason, for some more valuable gift.

Isaiah, again, shows us the way … Rejoice for he has announced “a year of favor from the Lord, and a vindication by our God!”

This, my friends, is good news! All others – bonus, gifts, gadgets and all – are nothing but add-ons and value added gifts. They don’t constitute the best and the highest of what we await – a new heaven and a new earth! For “the Lord God [will] make justice and praise spring up before all the nations!”

Come, Lord, come! Emmanuel be with us!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

LORD, LET US SEE YOUR KINDNESS!



2nd Sunday Advent – B
December 7, 2014

LORD, LET US SEE YOUR KINDNESS!

Bible-based epic movies are usually shown right before or during Lent. The current hit “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is obviously an example, opening just around the 2nd Sunday of Advent. I agree with Christianity Today that the movie is somewhat “biblically irreverent,” something else, which is positive.

But my topic for second Sunday of Advent is not about Exodus, nor about the cinematographic masterpiece that it actually is, at least for me, but about a God whom the whole Philippines now addresses with a plaintive prayer and plea, besieged as it is now by a potentially catastrophic super-typhoon that is “Hagupit,” that comes just a little a year after “Haiyan” wrought death and destruction to a wide swath of Central Philippines.

Well over 19 million Filipinos, who will be directly affected by the typhoon, can well place themselves in the same footing as Moses, who wrestled with God in more senses than just one in prayer, pleading, and proactive leadership on behalf of his suffering people. My prayer, like everyone else right now is simply this: “Lord, let us see your kindness!”

I am one with so many who post hopeful and faith-filled prayers in social media who basically ask for the same thing Moses asked God on behalf of his people – deliverance and liberation from slavery, both real and figurative.

The movie subtly suggests that miracles that were wrought were all actually natural and naturally explainable events. But the movie also makes it clear, as the Bible actually does, that those same natural events happened because of perfect supernatural timing, due to a Divine intervention that cannot be explained away by facetious and pseudo-scientific argumentation.

I am no scientist. I find it hard even to understand how come there are three conflicting forecasts about the trajectory of Hagupit all coming from international reputable weather experts the world over. On that area, I cannot be of much help to anyone.

But I am a believer. I believe that even if the miracles wrought in Moses’ times were attributable to mere natural events, I also believe that the God of nature, the God of creation, and the same God of redemption can so cause precisely those natural events to happen at the right time, at the right place, for the right people,  and that such supernatural timing is something that no scientist, no Pharaoh or King, can do on his own.

I call on fellow believers who also belong and who are on the way to becoming what God has intended us to be, to join the rest of the community of believers in prayer, and I would like to repeat: “Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.” Moses, like Isaiah, was called and sent by God to give “comfort to [His] people.” Through them, “the glory of the Lord [had been] revealed.” Through chosen individuals, God has impressed upon us all, that for “a thousand years are just like one day,” for He, too, is the God of history.

But, more importantly, the story of Moses and the event of the Exodus, teach us one thing … There is a time for reckoning … There is an end to suffering, to pain, to earthly happiness and well-being as we know them, for the “world and all its pleasures, are fast drifting away.” There is an end to tyrants like Rameses, and definitely an end to political parties whose only achievement is to fool and hoodwink everyone to believing they are merely working for the common good, while doing nothing but steal from the very people they claim to serve.

The movie that is “Exodus: Gods and Kings” teach us valuable lessons. But the ongoing event that is the unfinished “history of salvation” teaches us even more … that what we believe and await and long for will come … And someone like Moses has come who told us that important lesson we need to take to heart: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.”

His message was good then; his message is good now: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”