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Saturday, October 31, 2015

HEROES NO LESS, BUT MORE!

[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
November 1, 2015
ALL SAINTS’ DAY

HEROES NO LESS, BUT MORE!

Today, we celebrate so important a Solemnity that the liturgy of the 31st Sunday bows down and gives way to the “glory of God in the Saints!” We do nothing less than worship the all Holy God today. We do nothing more that glorify Him in and through the saints we honor and venerate.

Hmmm … isn’t there something amiss here? Why should the saints steal the show fro God, kind of? Why do they deserve veneration and praise?

Let me first tell you a story …

My childhood “hero” was someone who survived the notorious death march from Bataan to Pampanga, soon after the US and Philippine forces surrendered to the Japanese. I have very faint recollections of the details, but Kakang Gorio, as we called him, was a very reticent man who would rather not talk about the gory details of his dramatic escape.

He came to us one fine day, not knowing where he was from. He was hungry and gaunt, unsure of his gait, but ever gentle and soft-spoken, though he showed signs that he was a big and burly man prior to his traumatic experience.

My father took him in as a partner in the small farming venture he had on the side. He was as quiet as he was hardworking. I always remember seeing him sweaty and dirty from tilling the fields at the end of the long day. He was uncomplaining and ever contributing what he could to the meager family income.

No one apart from us, knew him. He did not even know where he came from, apparently suffering from PTSD or something related to amnesia. All we knew was that he loved us kids, and that he loved my parents for giving him a place to sleep and some work to do.

Alone, unknown, and uncelebrated, I looked to him, nevertheless, as a hero.

Today, we honor similar heroes, no less. They are worthy of emulation as do all the saints with names that we can enumerate from memory. They were nameless, faceless, record-less individuals who took it seriously in life to live in a manner God wanted them to be, minus the trimmings and trappings of popularity and the adulation of an admiring world.

But God behaves differently from the way the world does. This much, the first reading reminds us. He Himself took steps to glorify the nameless 144,000 who were washed in the blood of the Lamb.

The Lord sees them as heroes, no less. And He gently reminds us too, today, that what matters is not whether the world knows us, but that we are “God’s children now.”

Heroes are generally admired. Heroes are generally honored. They each have their day in a year when their contributions to society are remembered.

But today’s saints, though heroes in their own right, are not known, not admired, not acclaimed.

But being heroes in God’s eyes, they are called “Blessed” by the God who is the author and source of all holiness.

And what matters more than anything else is the blessedness and beatitude attached to being poor, being meek, being in mourning, being hungry and thirsty for righteousness, being merciful, being clean of heart, being peacemakers, being persecuted for God’s sake, and being insulted on account of God.

The saints of today, though unknown and unheralded, are heroes, no less. But that is not what counts as important. They were more than heroes. They get more than just monuments.

We pray to God through their intercession. We honor them. We thank God for them. And we glorify God who wrought wonders for them and in them and ultimately for us. Glory to God and the saints of all times!




Saturday, October 24, 2015

I WANT TO SEE ... AND MORE!

[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
30th Sunday_OT_B
October 25, 2015

I WANT TO SEE … AND MORE!

As I write, tens of thousands of my fellow Pinoys are jostling, inching, and struggling their way through the snarled traffic to get to the venue of “Tamang Panahon” – a phenomenon gone world wide, if we are going to judge by the sheer numbers of tweets that it has gotten – and, still – getting – the “Yayadub” phenomenon!

I beg the indulgence of my foreign readers in North America and Europe who do not have the faintest idea about what I am referring to. Suffice it to say that millions of us Filipinos, both here and in the diaspora of more than 130 countries all over the world, have been, since July 16, glued to their TV sets at lunchtime to join the noontime show known as “Eat Bulaga” – in particular, what they call the kalyeserye featuring Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza. (Let us not forget Wally in his role as Lola Nidora!)

Only the most dense person would not see this as a phenomenon worth observing! Even the blind in our midst follow the story line by line, with television sets all over the country kept blaring almost all day. The teeming masses of both educated and not so much educated people follow the story. They see more than what others don’t seem to see. They find excitement, entertainment, fun, love, disappointment, joy, tears, laughter and the whole gamut of normal human emotions in the show. They find meaning. They find values. They identify with characters. They see themselves in one or the other of the main characters.

They see more, not less!

Our readings today are an invitation to see more, not less. They are a rousing call to faith, to see beyond, to see what others may not see.

We live in a faithless world. One educator and writer that I chanced upon today. Mary DeTouris Poust wrote that in her religious education classes, she looks today at her students and see the future ex-catholics! And she minces no words when she says that it is due to poor faith formation classes, lousy homilies, and the failure of catechesis in general – given to the parents of these same students.

We are all blind in some way!

And yet, like Bartimaeus, teeming millions of people are endlessly running everywhere to look for meaning, for guidance, for light! Many of the tens of thousands who flock today to Tamang Panahon, are looking for more than just the “kilig” factor (the feel-good emotions). Those who will stay home but will stay glued to the TV sets are there not only to find occasion to laugh, cry and root for their favorite character, but also to find some sense in a seemingly senseless world of violence, corruption, and terrorism.

Many of them want to be reminded of the good, old-time values of a bygone era, of the unwritten rules of etiquette and good breeding, and a sense of trust in a personal Higher Power, who guides our existence and reminds us that being good and moral is never outdated.

I would like to invite my friends and readers to do two things… The first is simply this … admit that all of us are like Bartimaeus … blind, in darkness, but in search!
The second is to imitate him who made good his search and operationalized his desire for light.

He got up from the roadside. He stopped his dependency trip and quitted begging when he heard the Lord was passing by.

He took his future into his hands and cried out: “Master, I want to see!”

Friends, I admire you for your desire to get entertained by Al-Dub or “Tamang Panahon.” I am one of you and one with you in hailing the show and praising it to the skies. It is an undeniable phenomenon, by now. But I ask you to do more. I ask you to see the beyond that you really are looking for, for behind all our earthly desire is the ultimate desire for God!

Look beyond Al-Dub. Look beyond this “dubsmash” phenomenon. Look beyond the earthly desires that you have! See more!

See God inviting you inspite of your blindness. And “he who seeks, finds!”



Saturday, October 17, 2015

HOLDING FAST TO OUR CONFESSION

[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – B
October 18, 2015

HOLDING FAST TO OUR CONFESSION

The first reading talks about the patient suffering of the prophesied Messiah, the suffering servant, through whom, “the Lord’s will shall be accomplished.” The second reading, from the letter to the Hebrews is some kind of a pep talk to people ever tempted to give up on what they believed.

It was a plea to fellow believers to hold on, “since [they] had a high priest who has passed through the heavens.”

The Gospel passage reminds us of a temptation that is every bit as real as the temptation to give up – the ever lurking danger and temptation of asking for what is not due us, looking for something greater than us, and aiming for something that is not meant for us.

I know the feeling. Who among us has not at any point in our lives aimed for something that is beyond us? Who among us has not wanted to get something that we really do not deserve, no matter our pretensions and utter convictions that we deserved it?

What child has not made tantrums because he or she wanted that toy at all cost for Christmas? Who among us can honestly say we have not secretly pined for something we didn’t have just because it simply dawned on us that we wanted it?

I know the feeling. I know the deed. I know what it means for James and John to be asking the Lord to put them one at his right and one at his left. Remember … they were just as human and real as you and me.

And human and real also mean being ambitious and covetous, unmindful of the consequences of our wants and desires, most of them unbridled and undeserved.

Let me focus today on these consequences …

The Lord chose to follow the Father’s will. The prophesied suffering servant accepted his call and everything else that came with it: much pain and suffering, like we are told by Isaiah.

There is no doubt about the decision and choice of James and John to follow the Lord. But today, after they made their desires known to the Lord, the Lord made them realize the consequences of their choice: “You do not know what you asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

As of latest count, more than a dozen have filed their candidacy for the Presidency alone. Scores more aim at becoming senators and hundreds, aim to be congressmen, while thousands want to be mayors or governors in next year’s national elections.

They don’t know what they are asking. (But many of them sure know what they are getting!)

And this is where the good news and the bad news lie. The bad news is this … Many people are just like James and John version one … They just wanted the perks, not the works. They just desired the position, not the responsibility.

This, too, was the plight of the Hebrews. They were being tested to the core. They were undergoing immense trials. They were choosing whether to give up and go back to Judaism or persevere and follow the path of the suffering servant, put to death, and silenced ostensibly by the Jews, in cahoots with Roman officials.

It appeared like a no brainer to many of them. Why continue to suffer? Why go on following the teaching of someone and end up like him, slaughtered by the powers-that-be, or beheaded by people who hate God and who hate what God stands for?

It was the perfect temptation to apostatize altogether and begin unraveling one’s life complicated by faith in Him who suffered, died and rose for our salvation.

The good news then, is this …

We are still face to face with the need to decide … the need for us to make a choice. The Hebrews were told by the letter writer to hold on, to plod on. We are told the same thing today by the same Lord who made his choice clear. And he lived and died and rose to prove to the world that He meant every word He uttered. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


Is your choice clear?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

ANY FURTHER QUESTIONS, YOUNG FELLOW?

[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
October 11, 2015
28th Sunday OT_B

ANY FURTHER QUESTIONS, YOUNG FELLOW?

The young man of today’s gospel passage sure knows how to do an interview. He knew the right questions. In fact, he already knew the answer to his questions. To the question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the Lord had an easy answer: “Simple, young man! … No killing, no bearing false witness … No stealing … No defrauding  … and (wouldn’t you know it!) Honor your old folks!”

The interviewer was not exactly pleased with the answer that after all, he knew all along! “I have observed all this from my youth!” “So what is new?” “Anything else?”

First lesson for the day … and it is all about us, not about God! Deep inside, we know what is right. Deep in our hearts, we know the answer. And we know that life is more than just avoiding this or that, or not doing one thing, and refraining from doing another.

I remember that as a young brother in seminary, during an outing with young people, I took a cold beer after a long hike in the woods. Some of the young people, simple as they were, were aghast that I was guzzling a bottle of beer. You know the line … “Oh, religious brothers who are going to be priests ought not be drinking beer!” At least one of them was honestly scandalized.

The Lord must have scandalized not just a few. Judas was scandalized that Jesus did not frown on the fawning woman who poured expensive perfume on his feet one fine day. The Lord must have scandalized some more when he would often hie off to the summer residence of Martha, Mary and Lazarus up in Bethany, where the air was cooler and the crowds thinner. Jesus must have occasioned a whole lot of gossip for he wined and dined with the likes of Zacchaeus, Levi and other unsavory figures that are the equivalent of our society’s hated Customs and Internal Revenue people!

But yes! The Lord did have a word to say to that young man who knew the right question but gave the wrong answer: “You lack one thing. Go, sell, give, come, and follow.”

Fair enough you say? Yes! … until the young man’s face fell in disbelief and disappointment.

I remember the time when the world was younger. As a not-quite-twenty-year-old student back then in seminary, I started collecting favorite books. Those were the days when we were told never to accumulate things. Some of the younger ones in seminary questioned why I had quite a number of titles in my possession. But when I had to move some place else and had to leave my stuff, those same ones who criticized me for keeping too many titles were the ones who divided the loot among themselves, keeping to themselves whatever it was they wanted all along.

You see, if you get my drift for today, possessions begin, not in your pocket or purse, but in your heart. Being rich or poor is not dictated by the lack – or presence, as the case may be – of a fat wallet or an overflowing bank account. Being rich or poor begins in the heart – where all desires are born, where all ambition is grown.

Being rich and poor goes beyond having or lacking. It has to do with being rich in values and rich in the appreciation of what is available, while at the same time being poor in things one cannot hope to have, or has no right to ever have, or one simply cannot get. It has to do with knowing that there are values and there are values, and one and only one can ever be the ultimate value, with all the rest as relative values.

The Lord sure knew his onions, so to say. He appreciated good wine and good food, but he was no slave to the same. He did not even own a pillow to rest his head on, while foxes had their dens.

Second lesson for us today is this … The Lord reads our hearts. “Everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.” (2nd reading).  Peter missed the lesson, at least initially. He still had the gall to complain: “We have given up everything and followed you.” And, mind you, Peter did have something to live on, more than just the average person then.

And this is where the real lesson comes shining through. The poorest are really those who are enslaved by their desires and covetousness. The richest are those who are never weighed down and pulled down by whatever good thing he or she has or can use. The poorest are those who are slaves. The richest are those who, while having, did not subject all their doing to the demands of what they owned, or had, or possessed.

The rich are those who can give them up for a higher cause – that is, for the kingdom.

And we know the rest of the story … they “will receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and land – with persecutions!” – and eternal life in the world to come!


That, my dear, is the ultimate riches! Any further questions?

https://youtu.be/OWGEWuwqat0

Saturday, October 3, 2015

UNION, UNITY, DIGNITY

[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
27th Sunday Year B
October 4, 2015

UNION, UNITY, DIGNITY

Today’s topic is most difficult for preachers like me. The easiest route is to go by way of what seems to be the only topic that appears to be the only way to go – that is, talk, not about, but against divorce.

Don’t get me wrong … I am a Catholic, and as a teacher of Moral Theology, would never go against either Scripture or sound, clear and consitent Catholic doctrine.

But I always take the route of the bigger picture. A detailed doctrine, no matter how categorical and clear, without its bigger context, will often (if not always) lack compassion. But life being what it is, complex and even complicated, we need both CLARITY & COMPASSION.

So then, what is clear in today’s readings? A whole lot, I must say … From the first reading, it is clear that humans were created “in God’s image and likeness.” What is clear is that human dignity is at the basis of humanity, at the core of our being human, whether we are male or female.

What is clear, too, is that the Genesis account of creation takes care to point out the reality of the joyful mutual recognition of the first man and the first woman as “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”

There is immense joy in being what God intended man and woman to be. There is intense happiness in being simply as God wanted us to be. And that joy is based, not on something negative – the prohibition of divorce – but on something positive – the meaning of marriage in God’s mind, in God’s dream, in God’s plan, and in God’s will.

This is what is clear … “It is not good for a human being to be alone.” It is not good for this social nature of the human person to be ignored, trampled upon, and violated.

The second reading also tells us what is also very clear … Human dignity is so valued and respected by God Himself that He allowed His Son to become like us. He “was made lower than the angels” that “by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

This, too, is clear … God lowered Himself for He believes in our dignity, and values our humanity, and treasure our human personhood, warts and all, yes … but called to eternal life.

What is then clear is the reality of God’s compassion. This is the bigger picture that I am speaking about.

That bigger picture is not one of prohibitions and decrees and commandments that are negative. No … that picture is one of a God who, overflowing as He is with compassion for those whom He created in His image and likeness, upholds, safeguards, and calls us to the best we can be.

And this includes our capacity to fulfill our social nature to the hilt, to the highest, to the utmost! And in so doing, He offers us the sacred model of marriage and gives us the most essential and foundational meaning of marriage as espoused in the clear teachings of Scripture, that a man and woman become one body, one flesh.

Yes, marriage is union. Yes, too, marriage is focused on oneness, on unity, that is not shallow, but deep … deep like the compassionate and consistent and undying love of God.  No, it is not some more or less superficial social arrangement. It is not just a civil union governed solely by a piece of paper ratified by legal or paralegal personalities. It is not governed and made rational and legal by a majority vote, or by the Gallup poll, or by the noisy perorations of a vociferous but powerful minority, whose starting point is not human dignity, but shallow human desire. Yes … it is a contract, but no … it is not just a human contract where the original divine intention for the union does not figure in.

And yes, last thing I heard is that God’s original intention “sicut in principio” was this: “What God has united, humans must not divide.”

And now, a word about God’s compassion …

Let us start with the most obvious … It is not easy to become fully human, fully alive. Take it from me and you … How many times have we desired and decided to turn a new leaf, and before the day is over, you have realized that you have fallen “seven times seventy seven times?” Daniel Donovan says, that inspite of all Jesus’ gifts, “we continue to bear the burden of human history and of individual and collective sinfulness.”

We are insincere on not just a few times. We are shallow for many a time. We are disloyal. We quarrel and fight for trifles. We sin. Repeatedly. Grievously.

But look at how God is. He shared our life truly in Jesus His Son. He, too, suffered and died.

It is hard to be faithful to one person especially when after years of union, you now know that he or she was never the ideal person to start with. It is hard to be faithful to the Church, especially given the fact that most of her members (like you and me!) are actually jerks and dorks!

But I have one good news for you and me today. As I scan this Church, as I look at the different congregations I say Mass for and with, I know deep in my heart, that lifetime loving unions are not just a pipe dream that is a fruit of the whims and fancies of a cruel God.

No … the lives of so many couples who have lived and died in unions designed in heaven but made on earth, are proofs positive and incontrovertible that human loves do not just happen. They need a lot of working through and heroic efforts that cost blood, sweat and tears.


That, very clearly, is God’s work in and through Christ, but with a lot of human cooperation. That, very clearly too, is where God’s compassion shone through. And both clarity and compassion are ours to own, share and revel in, and emulate … What God has united, let no human divide.”