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Saturday, January 24, 2015


3rd Sunday Year B
January 25, 2015


It is a curious fact that Jesus, who was a carpenter, chose fishermen and called them to mission. The builder and founder of the Church, an edifice built on rock that Jesus was declared to be by no less than the chief fisherman named Peter, chose people who lived mostly by the waterfront, to be the foundation stones of his Church.

I have no talent for carpentry. I have no experience fishing, both as a sport and as a trade. But I do know I need both. I love fish and I prefer fish to meat. I admire carpenters for they do things I cannot do. But they each have distinct tasks that cannot usually be done by one and the same person.

The Lord was founder and builder. The Lord was sent to build God’s Church, but the charism of “founder” is not the same as the charism and mission of “catcher.” The Lord was shepherd par excellence. He was the visionary and the messenger and mediator whose mission was uniquely his to share with others. And generously share it, he did, by calling Peter and the band of fishermen to do the catching, and to do the gathering.

Relatively recent Biblical scholarship tells us that fishermen were not exactly wretched people who knew nothing more than hauling fish. They were actually entrepreneurs in their own right, who had a thriving business, and who owned more than just dirty fishnets.

The Church is represented by the image of the carpenter, the builder, the charismatic founder. That role belongs to God alone in Christ His Son. No other can claim a right to found a Church. No human can usurp that divine prerogative, with all due respects to groups founded by human beings, both here and abroad. But the Church wouldn’t be the Church Christ founded without people being sent to do particular tasks. That image is represented by fishermen, called and sent for a mission – to be “fishers of people.”

As Supreme High Priest, Christ is both at one and the same time. He is priest, prophet, and king to the superlative degree. But that does not mean He alone possesses the role, for He has actually chosen to share all three, to Peter and the rest, who became what Christ was.

The carpenter par excellence has spoken. He speaks again, to us, now … And the task of the fishermen is to proclaim for all men and women to hear: “Repent and believe in the gospel.”

The net has been cast. The carpenter has sent the net casters for a mission. The question now for each one of us is this: “Are we willing to be caught?” “Are we willing and ready to be snared by His promises and teachings?”

Simon and Andrew, James and John today shows us the way. No hemming and hawing … no hesitation and mumbling reluctance … “They abandoned their nets and followed him.” “They left their father Zebedee in the boat, along with the hired men, and followed him.”

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Baptism of the Lord (B)
January 11, 2015


I remember a well-sought after speaker who was invited once to give a talk on the big and lofty topic called the “personalist philosophy” of Pope St. John Paul II. I am no philosopher and biographer, but I do know what that basically refers to – the importance, dignity, and primacy of the human person above all other external or “accidental” considerations about the human person. It was a brilliant and eloquent talk. The listeners were all impressed and imbued with the great desire of upholding the dignity of everyone they knew – yes … including drivers, “kasambahays” (domestic helpers or caregivers), and gardeners or servants. That is, up until he called for his driver and called him out in the big auditorium: “Driver! Please bring my books over from the car!” So much for upholding the personalist philosophy of someone so admired, delivered by someone so much sought after as a lecturer.

It was an epic failure of prime caliber. All that he said about personalism collapsed with just one single insensitive behavior in public.

I am a regular habitué of a country club, not because I am a member, but because I need to do regular Masses there. The well-mannered, well-educated personnel in charge told me something I cannot forget. When asked about who among the clients were the most unreasonable and demanding, she did not even pause for a second to think of the answer. She just blurted out: “It’s those upstarts from the boonies, mostly thickly-accented women married to white Europeans or other Caucasians who, not only are most demanding and unreasonable, but also most demeaning and verbally abusing.” Countless times, she said, she had been told abusive things like: “Atsay kayo habang buhay!” (You will remain servants all your life!), all said menacingly with arms akimbo.

Sticks and stones can hurt, but words can inflict deeper wounds, or uplift and uphold someone, depending on what is said. I remember a telling incident, back when I was a greenhorn in the city, fresh from the boonies of Cavite. Not quite 7 years old yet then, I spoke with an accent, using words that people in Manila did not understand. I was asked by curious neighbors: “Where are you from?” “From Mendez, Cavite,” I said. And an insensitive lady quipped: “Oh, Cavite, where there are many “tulisans” (brigands and criminal elements)! Of course, I never knew what a tulisan was, and I, for the life of me, had not really seen one in my short life then. But the words remained. It struck deep into my consciousness.

It was my first lesson on self-esteem, and how to destroy it in a young boy’s heart.

Christmas has come and gone, once more. The season was not quite finished yet, when so many other events and distractions took the nation’s attention: the Black Nazarene procession, the Santo Nino, the Papal Visit … to name just a few. But Christmas, as an event, is something that recalls a gift that was meant to elevate not just people’s self-esteem, but their eyes and sights to heaven and eternal salvation. After all, weren’t we told repeatedly that, on Christmas Day, God became man, so that man might become like unto God?

Christmas is a season for upholding. It is a time for ennobling sinful humanity, no doubt, but called all the same to glory untrammeled, unparalleled, unequaled. Christmas is the ultimate self-esteem booster, and by self-esteem, I don’t refer to a shallow pop psychology concept. I refer to the personalist ideals of Pope St. John Paul II – the epitome of who we are as human persons created in the image and likeness of God.

And the whole process of “divinization” – the gradual journey of what Teilhard de Chardin calls the process of Christification, our gradual reconfiguration unto Christ, man, God, Savior and Lord, began with the event we celebrate today. Theology describes it in another big word – salvific! The Baptism of the Lord is a saving event, a type, a model of what we all are called to partake. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and thereby, sanctified the waters of the earth and made it not just a symbol, but an efficacious matter for our own sanctification.

And know what? I have good news for you with lowered self-esteem. (Most Filipinos have low self-esteem, I was told. That included me). Today, more than just that low-end pop psych self-esteem babble is elevated. Today, more than just your deficient self-concept and self-image is heightened. In and through the silent Christ, who utters not a single word in today’s readings, we are told, as indeed, Christ is told: “You are my beloved Son: with you I am well pleased.”

Welcome, dear friends, to the club of the wounded, but healed humanity! Welcome to an era and situation where no one can anymore treat you as a “bruised reed” or a “smoldering wick.” He came and did something great for people down in the lowest rungs of society’s estimation: the blind, the prisoners, and those who lived in darkness. For “one mightier than John” has come after him. And He is the servant whom God has personally upheld.

He is Emmanuel. God with us. End of story. Next question, please!

Saturday, January 3, 2015


January 4, 2015


Just over the holidays, when millions were reeling under the fury of typhoon Seniang in the south, a star-studded, politician-filled, and a royal-styled “royal wedding” was held in Manila. No, don’t get me wrong … I am not going to rail against any royal wedding, whether real or pretended. Neither am I going to rant against the bigwigs who graced the occasion. Weddings, after all, in Jewish culture, treated the couple as royalty for the day.

But I do want to say a thing or two about stars … stars who attended … wannabe stars who could only follow the media hype all delivered in a blow-by-blow account, figuratively while Rome was burning (or Mindanao and the Visayas drowning in floods) … starry-eyed vicarious stars for the day who wouldn’t want to miss any minute of the gorgeous pageantry called show business at its best and at its worst in the Philippines, (even if the pile of plates and pots and pans, and tubs of laundry were waiting to be dispatched soonest! – and yes, while the traffic was snarled like the power lines of Meralco just about everywhere they served – or made money off the unsuspecting public).

The stars ruled that day! And once more, for the nth time, it was proven that in the Philippines, there is no business like show business, and there is no stopping even the top leader from attending to affairs of state like – well, a royal wedding!

Today, I talk of another star. That star was nameless, one anonymous glinting star, but one who moved some of the most star-crossed royalty of the day. The three Magi were led by that star. Of the millions of stars that populated the universe, most of whom weren’t even known, nor visible to the naked eye, that one star, unknown, unnamed, uncelebrated, unheralded, did the most important task it was ordained to do – lead the people that mattered to the one single person that mattered for the whole world, and yes … for the whole star-filled and star-studded universe!

Today is Epiphany Sunday – the day of manifestation, a day of glorification, a time of revelation – the shining forth of the truth about the child just born. It all happened because of one star, and a bunch of star-struck believers who came to render him homage.

For all the lights and the noise and the revelry that Manila (and the whole country) did last New Year’s eve, (something that the world officially notices now), there is still a lot of darkness in the country we love, among the people we care for. We need more light, and here I don’t mean lights. We need more stars, and here I don’t refer to show biz personalities. We need luminaries. We need guides. We need people who will lead, not deceive. We need the shining star of truth to unite us; the enlightening star of justice and charity to make us a great nation, and we need the cleansing light of honesty and sincerity to lead our country away from the glaring lights of corruption, to the gentle reassuring light of love for all, especially those most in need.

What kind of star are you?