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Saturday, February 28, 2015

THE BEST, EVEN FROM THE WORST!

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2nd Sunday of Lent B
March 2, 2015

THE BEST, EVEN FROM THE WORST!

Being tested beyond one’s capacity to endure is all I can think of when I read the ordeal of Abraham (and Isaac!). God asked for the worst any human being can ever think of … the life of his one and only son, and through a cruel, painful death at that … from his own hands, no less!

In our times, I feel like many of us (and most of my readers!) are being tested to the core … and to the limits. We read and hear about beheadings, burnings, and being buried alive. We hear almost to the day all about dishonesties and insincerities of politicians who always talk of the good of their constituents but whose behavior belies everything they utter. We also have faint, but almost morally certain suspicions that big businesses are nothing more than partners in crime of these same individuals who love to be called “honorable.”

Things seem to go from bad to worse and there seems to be no stopping the evil that has taken so deep roots in our culture. Everywhere. At all times. In every situation imaginable. For everyone.

I just had the fortune of reading an untold story about people whose planes from across the Atlantic en route to the USA (totaling about 52) had to be diverted to Gander airport in Newfoundland in 2001 (9/11) during the terrorist attacks. For the more than 10,000 of them who were welcomed by the locals who were even less than their unexpected guests, it was the worst that could ever happen, when all they wanted to do was to get home soonest, safest, and sanest.

But the worst brought out the best from everyone. One person did the unimaginable. In gratitude, he announced he was starting to collect funds for scholarships for the people of Lewisporte who welcomed them warmly and treated them nicely. Right then and there, he collected more than 14,000 dollars from the grateful passengers. As of writing, the funds now went over 1.5 million dollars!

Abraham’s plight was not easy, by any standard. And it was definitely not a walk in the park, too, for the confused boy, Isaac.

But there was something more than confusion and terror and suffering and everything negative that one could think of in the mind and heart of Abraham. It was definitely bitter medicine that was hard to swallow. But heroes and genuine leaders are made of sterner stuff than most, and the God who demanded so much was a God who offered so much to the obedient Abraham. He was granted faith. He savored his faith and built everything on the foundation of faith.

He was more than ready and willing to do the unthinkable. On account of faith. Because of his faith. On the basis of faith!

I am convicted today. For I have so little faith. I am disturbed, even angry that heartless politicians rule the roost in my society. I am disturbed and angry that the electoral process has been hijacked for years by an automated system that  seems to guarantee the dictatorship of parties, not the people. I am aghast and terrorized by the possibility that power no longer emanates from the people, but from people with self-centered agenda, and from parties who hoodwink the masses, with a lot of help from conscript media, owned by big businesses whose hold on power is guaranteed by the very same media outfits they own, propped by the institutions like the armed forces who are party to the same intricate system of corruption from top to bottom.

I am shamed, apart from being convicted. I am shamed by my little faith. And in my shame, I now feel compelled to at least find it in my heart to reflect on God’s soothing words: “Do not lay your hand on the boy. Do not do the least harm to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”

Today, second Sunday in the season of Lent, I beg the Lord to continue shaming me. I beg the Lord to go on convicting me. I beg the Lord to keep on disturbing me, and to pursue the patient task of whispering to me and prodding me: “I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.”

The worst seems to have come upon me and us. There seems to be no way out of the systematic corruption impasse. There seems to be no solution to all the evil that seems to overtake everyone everywhere.

But I am not powerless. I am not hopeless. And the Lord reminds us all of this today. “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

The Lord today took Peter, James and John for them to see, first hand. What they saw is what we, in fear, anger and hopelessness don’t want to see – the transfiguration that was his, and the transfiguration that is also ours to have and share! “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

Saturday, February 21, 2015

1st Sunday of Lent (B)
February 22, 2015

REPENT AND BELIEVE!

It is very hard now to focus on things. We are bombarded by so many worries, so many concerns, so much tension on account of so many disturbing events:  ISIS spewing threats all over the world … incompetence and selfish leaders bungling just about every imaginable situation that affects the common good … criminal elements apparently lording it over people everywhere.

But Lent that started with a solemn imposition of ashes is a call to silence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It is a call for all to be gentle, compassionate, forgiving, repentant and openness to renewal – all exact opposites of what we see and hear almost to the day.

One thing about Lent is, it also tells us to go slow, to be attentive to signs, to watch out for clues and be reminded that life is not all about worries and tension, problems and threats to peace and security in life. It is a call to put focus on the afterlife, on matters that go beyond the here and the now.

The sign in the Old Testament was the bow in the sky. It reminded them of God’s part of the agreement – an agreement that He had faithfully kept up till now. It is fidelity that today we acknowledge: “Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth, to those who keep your covenant.”

The sign par excellence that we now have is no less than Christ, whose sign of suffering and death now takes effect in our salvation: “Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God”

In our messy world, the challenge for us is to not allow the many disturbing events and signs to distract us from that sign that leads to salvation. It is all too easy to be focused on the terrifying, the terrorizing, the painful, the macabre and the sordid, and lose sight of the God who calls to peace, serenity, and trust.

Now is the time during Lent to allow the subtle signs of ashes, the receding purple colors of Lent, the sign of our own voluntary suffering, to bring our sights back to the image of God, Lord, healer and savior. The bow in the sky served its purpose long ago. It pointed to the covenant that God kept faithfully. Christ now looms as the sign par excellence, and the one that effects principally what He signifies.

Cutting down on food and leisure time? Fair enough! Don’t feel deprived. Feel enriched instead. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

Tempted to take away the focus on Christ and set one’s sights on the world’s pain and our own pain? … Consider this: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

We are not wanting for signs, but at times we are wanting in the ability to read the same signs. We often see less, not more.


During Lent, we strive to see more, not less … from simple signs: ashes, purple, prayer, and a little fasting and a little suffering.

Undanao, Samal Island, Davao
February 20, 2015

Thursday, February 12, 2015

TURNING TO THE LORD IN TIME OF TROUBLE

6th Sunday Year B
February 15, 2015

TURNING TO THE LORD IN TIME OF TROUBLE

People shun the company of others for various reasons. Many years ago, before the age of “deo-lotions” and “skin whitening products”, “Mum” and “Veto” warned us of the dire consequences of not heeding the advice (not the order) to worry “if it’s you they’re talking about.” Yes, you would most likely be the equivalent of the biblical leper if you had some bodily trait that people are talking about, and I don’t need to be specific here.

Yes, there are lepers and there are lepers, and all of them are avoided by the crowds. But crowds now can actually mean more than a throng of people in one geographical space. One could be avoided now by different cause-oriented groups, or by different political colors and all sorts of political leanings and affiliations. In the Philippines, one could be red, yellow, green, or other defining (or damning!) political color. Or one could belong to one of the innumerable Facebook pages and communities where “trolls” and “flamers” abound, not making any secrets about anyone not being accepted by other groups, or downright rejected by everyone in the loop.

Flamers and trolls do worse than what biblical peoples did to lepers. The crowds in the Bible only required the outcast leper to carry a bell and shout for everyone to hear: “unclean, unclean!” Flamers actually call others unsavory and unprintable names, hiding behind fake names and avatars, taking comfort in the relative anonymity provided by the internet.

Judging by what goes on in our midst in these days, we have to admit that we are an even more sorely divided and fragmented people. We take refuge in various groupings and online communities. It is not far fetched to say that we have become, of late, much more divided, and a lot, lot more unwilling to give an inch to those whose ideas and convictions run counter to our own.

On account of so much disunity and division, made worse by our laggard economic situation and state of massive corruption, we could very well fit the mold of the biblical leper, shunned and avoided by our neighboring countries, bullied by the biggest power this side of the globe, manipulated by a fellow ASEAN member country, and despised by at least two other ASEAN countries.

We seem powerless before manipulative and bull-headed countries. We could not even protect our own forces before rebel enemies. No matter what your position about the whole carnage in Maguindanao three weeks ago is, one cannot but accept the fact that 44 young lives were left to die a brutal and cruel death, with no help and reinforcements coming their way, when the fighting protracted on for at least 11 hours.

The nation is in grief. I, personally, have been in sorrow and doing my level best to come to the aid of those who have been treated unjustly.

The response after the first reading, for me, is a perfect prayer for our suffering and grieving nation, never mind if our grief continues to be disenfranchised by a callous and self-centered government. We turn to the Lord in our grief and pain: “I turn to you Lord in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.”

This is the only thing that lepers then could do – turn to the Lord for help. This is the only thing now that we neo-lepers could also do – turn to the Lord for guidance and solace. Lepers then were those who, on account of their various skin diseases, were avoided by everyone. Lepers now are those who, on account of their pedigree and position in the economic ladder, have no one else to turn to for precious little help except God.

The Lord shows the great mercy and compassion of God – in action … in vivo … not in mere words, but in and through his saving presence.

The Lord did not do any finger pointing and blame throwing. He did not ask the leper why he had to badger him. He did not tell the hapless leper that it was all his fault. He did not argue with the leper and tell him: “Buhay ka pa naman, di ba?” (What are you complaining about? You are still alive, aren’t you?”) He simply said: “I do will it. Be made clean.”

Lord, in this time of national grief and sorrow, I turn to no one else but you. People who rule over us apparently would not listen. No one from the powerful elites would seem to take the side of the fallen heroes and their grieving families. The voice of those who are not on their side is, for all intents and purposes, largely unheard, and if heard, are simply ignored.

Please cleanse us from the leprosy of indifference. Save us from the leprosy of moral poverty. Pull us out of the miserable leprosy of drug addiction, addiction to power and position, the leprosy of our moral handicaps and pretended ignorance of what is right, true, just, and honorable. For you alone are our healer. You alone are our Savior. And you alone are Lord, God, forever and ever. Amen.


Sacred Heart Novitiate
Lawaan, Dalisay City
Cebu 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

DRUDGERY OR DELIGHT?


5th Sunday Year B
February 8, 2015

DRUDGERY OR DELIGHT?

Tension is the closest word I can find with regards to today’s readings. The opening salvo comes from Job, who is not exactly silent about his plaints and pleadings with the Lord, if not, complaints: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?”

Take it from the news we have been hearing of late. Attacks here and there ... Terrorism everywhere ... Corruption unabated in our beloved country and beyond ... Fake surveys from outfits that have a lot to gain – and lose, for that matter – should the winds of change blow our way. Grinding poverty for more and more people … sore lack of education for millions and millions … The list is tedious. Do we have anything right now to disprove Job and dispute his “survey findings?”

Well, I do … Today’s readings do! And here is where the tension lies. Here is where the capacity to see beyond what we actually see – as part of the fabled Catholic, Christian imagination, finds its most potent antidote to the very real “drudgery,” drivel, and even death.

Just look at the readings … After drooling on Job’s drivel of complaints, we hear the psalmist, and we chimed in, in fact: “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.”

So, what’s the real score? What is really happening in the world? Is there hope for the families of those 44 SAF policemen who were brutally massacred from dawn to dusk two Sundays back?

These questions, at bottom, are no different from the question of Glydel, the young girl who asked the Holy Father, Pope Francis in Manila just a few weeks ago: “Why should children suffer so much?”

The Catholic imagination, born of centuries of reflection on God’s Word, has no answer to the problem of pain and suffering – drudgery, if you will! It only offers a model, an image, a prototype … The Church can only offer us the image of Christ, who Himself, while undeserving of it all, had to suffer so much, and die in the hands of cruel tormentors.

Yes, God and His Church, founded precisely on, and nourished by the blood of Christ, His Son can only offer a Way, a journey, towards a destination that cannot be mathematically and scientifically defined. Its dimensions are not of the here and the now. It is a reality in three dimensions: the here, the now, and the hereafter – the forever!

Here now is the delight that today’s Good News brings for our consideration. What it basically says is that we are called to live our lives in a three-dimensional manner. If we see only the “restlessness until the dawn,” the experiential truth that “I shall not see happiness again,” we live in only two dimensions: here and now.

Today, no less than the Lord shows us the essence of this Catholic imagination … After being hated and despised in pagan territory, where he could not do too many wonders on account of people’s rejection, Jesus came to the house of Peter. There, too, was the proverbial drudgery … Peter’s mother-in-law lay in bed with a fever. This is the classical human condition – what philosophers call “existential pain” – the very object of Glydel’s question – the very reality that makes our lives a daily drudgery!

But this is where the delight also comes in. Jesus is savior. Jesus is healer. Jesus is Lord. “They brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.” And he did not ignore them. He did not look the other way. Yes … he even proceeded to do Peter a favor by curing his mother-in-law! (I am not sure, though, whether Peter was happy about it!)

His actions were prophetic, not just therapeutic. After all the wonders and healings and miracles, he sought refuge in something that usually does not offer delight  - the desert! That was where he prayed!

Job’s drudgeries and our disappointments now find their proper place – in the desert of delight! – the ultimate sign of tension in any Catholic Christian’s heart. We suffer. By believing, suffering will not and does not necessarily end. But by going to the desert of delight in personal and communal prayer of faith, we find meaning. We find reason to believe and still belong, despite the drudgery.

For God “heals the broken-hearted,” and His Son Jesus Christ “took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

Disappointed? Try going to the desert!