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Saturday, March 28, 2015

DESTINY, DIGNITY, INTEGRITY


Palm Sunday-Year B
March 29, 2015

DESTINY, DIGNITY, INTEGRITY

I like how Dianne Bergant develops her reflection on Palm Sunday. Basing herself on the facts given by Scripture, the Lord, she says, knew what was coming, and was totally aware of what he was getting into by getting to Jerusalem.

As I write, the whole world of media, both mainstream and social, are abuzz with all news and a whole lot of speculations about the plane that, very clearly, was made to crash deliberately on the French Alps. That was a destiny that depended totally on the free and deliberate choice on the part of one who had sole control of the plane with more than 140 people on board. Without in any way engaging in cheap psycho-babble and psycho-analyzing the by now most talked about name in the world, the fact is, the destiny of that flight was something that totally depended on that man.

Today, Passion Sunday, we hear once again, the story of his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. But in the same liturgy, we hear of the story of the Passion – a destiny that he knew was coming his way, but a destiny that is far different from the story of the ill-fated flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf. Jesus did not decide to go into his death. He did not select from a variety of options like one selects answers on a survey question by ticking bubbles on a sheet.

He did so “usque ad mortem” – all the way up to death, in obedience to the will of God, his Father. Now this is not mere destiny. It was not a decision taken by one who was disturbed, or by one who was pushed against the wall, or one who was left with no other choice.

He did so in obedience to God’s will!

We are entering the holiest week of the year. If it is called “holy week,” there must be reasons far higher than just because now is the week to talk about pious exhortations to be good and kind (to animals and men, for some people, in that order!). It is called holy for many reasons, of course, but one primary reason is because it hits the nerve center of what it means to be like unto Christ, who freely and voluntarily accepted his “destiny” willed by God, and accepted that his “hour had come,” and that he “would be handed over to sinners.”

He did not choose to die senselessly. He decided willingly to obey His Fathers’ will. By so doing, he chose to follow God’s will, no matter how difficult, no matter how humanly senseless, with dignity and integrity. For he was a man with a mission.

OK, so it is ‘holy week.’ The closest some people can get to making it holy is making a “retreat” for the beach, and refraining from eating Jollibee and McDonald’s but actually gorging on more expensive fares like “seafood” including the classic “bacalao” a la whatever! For many among the so called “masa” (hoi polloi), it really means getting to some church and buying ready made palm fronds (palaspas) and going to the priest to have it “sprinkled” with holy water, and then complaining about how crowded the church is, and how long the readings are.

For many of us, including me, making the week holy is engaging in pious talk and doing pious things, but the word “difficult” or “hard” to do is nowhere in the picture. Yes, I’d love to be holy, but please don’t ask me to do what is difficult or what would bring so much inconvenience to me!

People now kill each other for driving space. Everyone is in a hurry to get some place, the quickest possible time (which means a few hours just trying to traverse EDSA!). I have seen pious Mass-goers shouting at each other for edging one another out of their preferred parking slots in Church. Yes, I have seen others too, berating the hapless guards and threatening they would go to Mass elsewhere because the guards tell them not to park in certain prohibited places!

Everyone wants to be holy and go to their destination, but nobody talks about doing the hard things. Every politician I know talk about the good of their constituents (before elections) and forget about them once elected. Every one asks the people for understanding, but no one cares to understand the poor, suffering, hapless, and hopeless masses who only have the MRT for a ride each and every single day, and the trains break down exactly when they need them.

You and I are called to the same destiny, like unto Christ’s. We were created by God to be with Him forever in the next. But salvation is as much God’s task as ours. We need to cooperate. We need to do our part. Christ did his by obeying. He fulfilled his destiny, yes. But he did so with quiet dignity, and integrity.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

THE DAYS ARE COMING; THE HOUR HAS COME!



Fifth Sunday of Lent – B
March 22, 2015

THE DAYS ARE COMING; THE HOUR HAS COME!

Today is a day of hope. We are looking forward to the prophesied “days” that are “coming.” This, too, is what we did last week, Laetare Sunday, more than midway through the discipline of Lent. We were told to be glad and rejoice, despite the fasting, praying, and almsgiving (that is, if we did it!).

But today takes the promise and prophecy to a whole new, and higher, level! We are told by Jeremiah wherefore rejoice … “The days are coming, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Judah.”

I don’t know about you, folks, but I really do need a boost in the arm. I need a generous dose of Vitamin H – hope … hope that brings new enthusiasm to my waning years … hope that brings new life to a world made wan and pale by wanton criminality and acts of terrorism … here, there and everywhere.

I don’t need more of the other H – hubris and humility’s nemesis – that leads us to so many humongous challenges and problems as a people, as nation states, as oftentimes clueless hoi polloi, misled and misinformed – and, definitely misguided by a manipulative government that runs everything just for show.

But the days are coming! Oh how I pine for those days when indeed, the covenant will flow freely, and compliance and fidelity to it will run unabated all through human culture and human organizations set up to assure its fulfillment and execution.

The days are coming! There is urgency in the tone of Jeremiah, who never was a man in a hurry. He was, in fact, even a reluctant prophet. He did not like to be bearer of bad news, and be disliked and hated in the process.

But this one thing, Jeremiah did! With love. With passion. With panache.

So what signs of hope do we now hold on to? Let me enumerate them …
First, it will be new, not the same old and stale talk of renewal. Second, it will be different, “not like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand.” Third … this is the new thing …”I will place the law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Ooops! This got me thinking! All this convicts me. It is new. It is different. It is internal to me, within me. I cannot blame God. I cannot lay blame to anyone else, for it is about me. Within me. It devolves upon me to consider Him as God, as He considers me His own!

And here is where the reality really bites. For not only the days are coming … In reality, the HOUR HAS COME! The time has come. And this time, it is no longer God who will do everything. It will no longer be God alone who will actualize and make everything real.

This hour is for me. This is my finest hour. This is the moment for me to rise and shine!

Of course, this is the hour of Christ’s glorification, for “the time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

But make no mistake about it. This is your hour, my hour, our hour, our time to allow Christ’s glorification to take full effect in our lives.

And this is what we are now called to do to make that hour happen:

1.     Fall like a grain of wheat and die!
2.     Bear much fruit
3.     Lose one’s life for God’s sake and for others’ sake
4.     Serve Christ and follow Him

This is the hour for me and you to do our part. And yes, never forget: “The Father will honor whoever serves me,” says the Lord.


Now, that truly is our finest hour! And it is coming. It will come. It has come. Today. For all days. In all ways. For always.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

FROM LOWLINESS TO LAETARE


4th Sunday in Lent – B
March 15, 2015

FROM LOWLINESS TO LAETARE

Today is Laetare Sunday. Midway through Lent, the Church tells us to “rejoice” (Laetare) which is a significant word in the Entrance Antiphon. Today, the processional hymn ideally ought to reflect this call to rejoice, as some kind of a break in the discipline of Lent.

The readings, as is proper of the season, are all very rich.  The first reading, while referring to God’s people and their marked tendency to “mock the messengers” sent from above, also highlights the overflowing mercy of God, who raised up Cyrus, King of Persia, who liberated the Israelites from their exile in Babylon. Now, that event was a watershed moment in the history of salvation – ours, as much as that of the Israelites.

The second reading precisely develops the theme of God who is “rich in mercy.” We were all “saved by grace” and “raised up with Christ” being the “handiwork” of God.

The Gospel from John evokes images of Christ being “lifted up” for our salvation – a mission and vision whose actualization is still ongoing, for each and everyone of us.

Life, they say, is like a wheel. Sometimes you’re up; sometimes you’re down. The same is true for God’s people. Among their lowest moments was their exile in Babylon. That was a bitter experience, no less. We all can probably talk about similar experiences in life, when we are at our lowest, when we all feel like hitting rock bottom, when even the Lord, so to say, has abandoned us. Christ Himself, while hanging on the cross, felt that way and even prayed accordingly, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

This is what we try to simulate and experience during Lent. This is behind the discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that are the hallmarks of Lent. We need to feel what it is like to be down there, with no one to defend us, with no consolation to lift us up, like Christ experienced, like Christ underwent so that we all might live.

I don’t like to make the whole Christian story sound like a fairy tale, but it is the truth. The ending to it all is glory and victory – and with finality!

Our faith is sorely tested now. We do not seem to see ready answers to so many questions. We are all but ready now to give up hope of getting real justice, with truth and fairness especially to those who have less in life and law. Corruption – the massive and institutionalized kind, keeps us all bowed down in helplessness and hopelessness.

Today, 4th Sunday, midway through the season, the Lord tells us to rejoice. Yes … rejoice, for everything has an end, and endings are always beginnings.

For our lowliness, perched down from our lowest point, we are called to laetare, to rejoice, for God is rich and mercy and full of kindness. In a world so steeped in cruelty and all forms of barbarity, we need reminders of their opposites.

Yes, we have reason to hope. We have something to look forward to. And it has nothing to do with romantic fairy tales with and-they-lived-happily-ever-after endings. That is wishful thinking.

What the Lord gives is a promise that comes from prophecy. And “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.” That is a promise from God. Promise!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

WHAT WE PROCLAIM!


3rd Sunday of Lent (B)
March 8, 2015

WHAT WE PROCLAIM!        

Let us begin with an assertion as blunt and as clear as that one of St. Paul: “We proclaim Christ crucified!” There, too, is an assertion apparently as clear as the foregoing, found in the first reading from Exodus 20: “You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below, or in the waters beneath the earth.” Now the Gospel passage has one more: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

Taken apart by themselves, and taken out of context, they sure are good sound bites for anyone with an agenda. The first in the list above could make a case for those who believe that Christian life ought to be one that is meant to be sour and dour, and one in which there is no room for joy and gladness and anything that is patently “worldly.” The second is the classical passage of those who endlessly berate Catholics for “worshipping images.” The third, of course, is the favorite of those who are against any form of perceived “commercialization” of the place of worship.

This is the classical problem of mistaking the meaning of isolated passages as against the meaning of Scripture as a whole. This is the age-old issue of hermeneutics, which as a matter of principle, is actually clear to academics and scholars, except for those who narrowly and mistakenly think that the rules of interpretation are something that they can decide unilaterally on their own, like the Bible-thumping fundamentalists do.

So what do we make of the three readings presented to us today? What is it that they, essentially proclaim?

The first reading essentially proclaims the utter uniqueness of God. It has nothing to do with images per se, but of the prohibition for us to have other gods, as shown by cheap representations and substitutions. In short, God does not prohibit images, per se, but idolatry, that is the worship of false gods. Worship of false gods means to have gods other than the revealed true God. The fact that this very same God told Moses to make an image of the serpent on a pole to be looked up to by those bitten by serpents in the desert shows that images, per se, are not forbidden, but the use of those images in place of the true God.

The second assertion from Paul is actually a proclamation of the true meaning of the Cross. It does not glorify something that is basically a sign of a cruel and excruciating death, but glorified Him who subjected Himself to that for a greater, higher reason, and that reason is what we read elsewhere in the gospel of John: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.” In short, it is not the material cross that is glorified, but the Cross that was made glorious by His death, by the very reason why He died, as a means and tool to effect our salvation. The meaning of the Cross, therefore, has changed. When before, it was a symbol of a shameful and painful death, it is now a glorious sign of salvation. What was (and still is), a stumbling block to non-believers is now what we gloriously proclaim to the world.

Christ’s assertion about the physical temple is the third in our list today. Again, the isolated line needs to be put back in its total context. And the context is full of meaning, not just lines that speak of a very literal understanding. The Lord used the context of a material temple, filled with commerce, in order to drive home a lesson that went beyond the materiality of the physical temple, but of a range of other meanings that can only come out in the total context.

And that range of meanings is quite vast. It points to the sacredness and holiness of God, and by extension and association, the place of encounter with the divine – the temple. But it points also refers to a prophetic declaration about his own physical body that will soon be destroyed, but will rise again after three days in a veiled reference to the resurrection.

The meaning of Scripture cuts across literal and more than literal levels. The meaning of Scripture comes from the totality, for in the first place, the books (all of them) was written over a long period with different historical and cultural contexts, with different human authors all inspired by the same God. The fact that they were written in different geographical, cultural and temporal contexts, only means that we, who interpret them now, ought to make a leap in time, in mentality and in geography.  The fact, too, that God is ultimately the author of Scripture, together with the human authors, means that the interpretation does not depend on each and everyone of us, but on the community of believers convoked by no other than God Himself.

But I digress too much. Scripture offers us big lessons in broad strokes that pose no obstacles to proper interpretation. Certain big ticket items are clear and they all jut out from every book in the Bible.

And one of those big ticket items that the three readings now point to is simply this … “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.” Another is this … There is only one God, and one should have no other gods besides him. A third is this … The Cross, once a sign and symbol of shame and infamy, has now been transformed to a glorious sign of victory, for God has scored absolute victory over death in and through the life, suffering, and death of Christ His Son.

This is what we proclaim!