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Friday, November 27, 2015

WAITING, HOPING & DOING


[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
First Sunday of Advent – C
November 29, 2015


WAITING, HOPING, DOING

There is always an air of freshness and newness every time Advent sets in. And it is all in the readings. Today, first Sunday of cycle C, Jeremiah gives the opening salvo: “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.” And what Jeremiah says is all forward-looking: “Judah shall be safe and Israel shall dwell secure.”

Historically though, the early Church that looked back and reflected on Jeremiah’s words was anything but secure. They were, in fact, uncertain, and the times were unstable. The fledgling Church was tossed in a swirling sea of political turmoil, wars, intense rivalry and talks of rebellion all over the Roman empire.

It was the perfect time for them to hear of “signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” They were, to be sure, familiar signs.

But we know better today than think that the Lord was fomenting fear and terror. It was the other way around. The Lord was instilling hope, even as he was reminding them that the signs they saw around them were not the ultimate, and that those very signs point to the coming of salvation, not destruction.

Our times are no different from then. We are immersed in a sea of uncertainty, too. Terror is everywhere. The world cannot keep up with the number of places where there is mass mayhem and murder, from Nigeria to Paris, from Syria to Lebanon, and let us not mention the Philippines where 44 policemen were massacred, a case that has not been fully explained yet.

In the face of all this, we have two immediate choices: give in to reminiscing and wistfully looking at the glorious past, or look forward to an even more terrifying future.

None of these two choices is what Scripture and the liturgy of today, choose. Today, together with the rest of Christian believers who will gather for the liturgy of the First Sunday of Advent, we choose HOPE. We choose FAITH.  We choose LOVE.

Merely recalling the past, no matter how comforting, does not lead us anywhere. But, in the same vein, looking at the uncertain future does not solve anything either. We need to do a different approach. We need to accept reality for what it is, and do a different reading of it in the light of God’s Word.

All three readings today accept the reality of pain, suffering, instability and uncertainty. Jeremiah spoke of glorious things to come, precisely because he was in touch with what was going on. There was no justice in the land.

For their part, the Thessalonians were all excitedly looking forward to the second coming of the Lord. But Paul had the better sense of redirecting all that enthusiasm to doing good, that is, to love one another and to strengthen one another. He had one simple message: It is well and good to wait for the Lord’s second coming, but in the meantime, we need to roll up our sleeves and work for the good.

The Gospel passage in the meanwhile, could lend itself easily to misinterpretation. It does not say we should go around looking for signs in the sky. What the Lord tells us is to go beyond those signs, and learn the important lesson behind it.

And that important lesson has to do with being awake, alert, ready and prepared. It has to do with living in hope. And living in hope means being aware and accepting that the times remain uncertain, unstable, unsure, and unsafe.

In our times, there is no more need to be looking for more signs. There are enough signs to ponder on. But what is missing in our times is what Jeremiah, the Thessalonians, St. Paul and the immediate followers of Christ all had – HOPE, FAITH, and LOVE.

They all knew what was coming. They all knew who was in control. They all knew that victory belonged to God, not to terror, not to anything evil.


And this is what we proclaim in Advent. Christ has come. And Christ is yet to come again. And as we wait in hope, we wait actively in faith and love, too. We try to “conduct ourselves to please God.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

POWER TO SERVE, NOT TO OPPRESS

N.B. I am posting my piece earlier as I will be on the road and don't know if I can find an opportunity to sit down and write or even post this reflection in the coming days. This is for CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY.

[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
Solemnity of Christ the King – B
November 22, 2015

POWER TO SERVE, NOT TO OPPRESS!

I write at a time when the world’s APEC leaders are in town, when the whole country literally had to hold its breath for a week to give way to the biggest send-off party to a dying administration. Put away all the blaming game and the usual sob stories coming from the family that has, for better or for worse, ruled the roost in this forlorn country for the longest time, one cannot deny the fact that, whether we like it or not, the world has become a smaller place, and linking up with other nations on the Asia-Pacific front, is not just unavoidable, but economically and politically necessary.

The face of power has changed in the context of a shrinking world. In the Philippine context, even power has its own “APEC” side. To get elected, you need funds. To have funds, you need to have a party. To get a position, your party needs to have a well-oiled machinery (read: a lot of money, and a lot cronies to deliver votes, including – you guessed it right – a cult masquerading as a legit religion that acts like a kingmaker!). And then, what one does with the power is what is exactly wrong with Philippine politics.

For the most part and in most cases, that power is meant to oppress, not to serve, notwithstanding all the emotional promises and pledges to help the so-called masses.

I am sorry to be bearer of bad news today. But I do so because I also want to be a bearer of good news. This is my task. This is my duty as a preacher and teacher. My job is to help you make a fusion of horizons – that of God and His Word, on the one hand, and the horizon of sinful humanity, our own world steeped in sin and selfishness, on the other.

And here is where the Word comes in handy, for after all, the liturgy is both liturgy of the Word and liturgy of the Eucharist. There is no doubt that the Old Testament points to “an everlasting dominion, that shall not be taken away, a kingship that shall not be destroyed.” There is no doubt, too , that the New Testament  confirms that, and speaks of Jesus Christ as “ruler of the kings of the earth,” who has made us into a kingdom, priests for God and Father.”

But the Gospel, while acknowledging all that, adds a nuanced and a very rich vision to what this kingship and kingdom is like. In other words, Christ says “yes” to kingship, but “no” to an earthly kingdom. He says “yes” to power, but “no” to earthly power.

“My kingdom does not belong to this world.”

Yes, and this is what makes it different from the powers that the world offers. The powers-that-be that I know and have known all my life have all squandered real power. The power that they had is the power that is mostly self-serving and self-oriented. Their power is not to serve, notwithstanding their fierce declarations and even fiercer protestations when asked or when pushed against the wall. I still have to see a politician who has wielded power so called who remained simple, unattached to wealth and position, and who used all their time to really serve the needs of the people they represent.

Is it possible to have it otherwise?

Christ says “yes.” The Lord shows us it is possible. It is possible to have power for service, and not power to oppress. For God’s Kingdom is not of this world.

The ancients understood it much better than we do. All power is associated with being a good shepherd, caring and solicitous for those under them. When they spoke of a King, they referred to one who leads them and brings them to greener pastures, like a shepherd would lead his flock to where there is abundant grass and water.

It is the feast of Christ the King. He is King, first in our hearts, and second in our human realm. He makes not oppressive demands. But He calls us to life … life in its fullness.

For, did I not tell you? His Kingdom shall last forever and ever.

And he or she who does not join this union of believers, might find himself or herself outside the gates. Let us put it this way … if the Philippines refuses to join APEC and its common dreams, we will find ourselves isolated.

Now is the time of salvation. Now is the hour for us to join the King in His service of love, not time for oppression. Blessed be Christ the King forever and ever!



Saturday, November 14, 2015

LEARNING LESSONS FROM TREES!

[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
November 15, 2015
33rd Sunday OT_B

LEARNING LESSONS FROM TREES

Many years ago, students literally studied under the shade of trees. Back in the day when the public school system was just getting started, there was a dearth of classrooms, so they held classes out in the open.

Years later (and I mean now!)  thousands of students may actually be virtually learning from under the shade of trees and lean-to structures, for the lack of classrooms are actually worse than it was a hundred years ago.

The good Lord today reminds us to “learn a lesson from the fig tree.”  He was actually talking, not about the situation that our country and people are in now, but about our capacity to read signs, to discern, the ability to watch out for signs that point to greater and bigger realities that go beyond the pale of the ordinary and the common place.

I grew up surrounded by trees. I actually knew what it means to plant bananas, coffee shrubs, common vegetables like chayote, and root crops like camote and cassava. My father taught us to look for signs that point to something else we need to do after planting. My grandmother taught us that tubers like cassavas need to be replanted after harvesting them, and that we needed to start out afresh after a bountiful yield.

For a farmer, the capacity to read “signs” actually spells the difference between hunger and fullness. Knowing when is the right time to harvest ahead of the impending rain can mean averting hunger and storing for the future.

All over the world, signs are afoot. Terrorism has once more reared its ugly head, for example, in Paris, France. But today, I don’t intend to go far. We have got enough signs to worry about on the home front. Let me enumerate some of them.

Reports of big time government crooks abound just about everywhere, from the country’s premiere airport to the lowly barangay. Streets are becoming private enclaves. Sidewalks are disappearing, and big time briberies are done in broad daylight.

There is little confidence now in the political system, little credence to the electoral system, and little trust in all institutions, both public and private. These are signs as real and no less clear than the sun getting darkened and the moon not giving light, and stars falling from the sky.

They are all signs that, for the alert and discerning heart, points to one and only basic reality … They point to the reality of sin, and sinfulness, and the culture that it has engendered among men and women of all places.

But they are also signs that the reign of terror, the power of death and darkness are not here to stay forever.

And this is where the capacity to read signs comes in as most handy and most important – when that very same capacity to read signs leads to the most important sign-reading ability of all.

I refer to faith! Faith is the most important sign-reading ability that is open to everyone. And hope is not far from this capacity to see more, not less.

Our times are waning. The liturgical year is about to end. In temperate countries, the leaves are falling; the air gets colder, and the nights grow longer. They are signs, not only that the season is changing, but that in life, all things change; all living things have an end; time is limited.

But they also point to the reality that faith and hope can make us see … that “the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”

Learn this big lesson,  I pray!  Learn a lesson from the fig tree!

The man of faith and hope cannot miss it. The Lord is near!



Saturday, November 7, 2015

HERO OR HEEL?

[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
32nd Sunday OT_B
November 8, 2015

HERO OR HEEL?

How little things have changed from then and now. The widow of Zarephath was gathering sticks, much like the poor now gather what has come to be known almost derisively now in the Philippines as “kalakal.”

I grew up at a place and time when “kalakal” did not refer to garbage. It simply meant farm produce that you brought twice a week to market to be sold wholesale to merchants who had the capital and the means of transport to sell them to the big Metro Manila market.

We were not anywhere near the abject poverty of the widow, who having been married lost the support of her father, and who, having been widowed, lost the entire support from a husband.

She was alone – and poor by any standard. So, too, was the widow mentioned in the gospel, who gave her all, despite her want, in spite of her need.

The first widow was the object of the Lord’s largesse and compassion. The second widow was the subject and agent or doer, if you will, of what God has been to the former, and to all who did not belong to the likes of dishonest scribes who took advantage of widows.

Both gave from their want. Both gave their all despite their own need.

In our times in this forlorn country that is anything but Christian now in culture, the equivalent of widows and orphans – the anawim of Yahweh – still give their all, most of them unwittingly, unwillingly, I submit.

Most of the victims of the now notorious “laglag-bala” scam are senior citizens, widows and widowers, old men and women, overseas foreign workers, hapless and clueless and definitely powerless simple people whose only overriding dream is to give a brighter future to their families in the boonies.

The Lord, in today’s gospel, did not mince words when he referred to the “scribes who liked to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets.”

But he did not condemn them primarily for working for honor and prestige and the adulation of the masses. He condemned them for the same exact reason that Filipino civil society now condemns those who take advantage of the poor OFWs, old people, and powerless individuals who don’t have any other option than to give sizeable bribes to get out of that man-made quandary brought about by a stupid law, on the one hand, and unscrupulous people, on the other.

Today’s liturgy offers two glaring lessons for us who feel violated by all this hullabaloo at the world’s worst airport.

The first is a classic truth in the Old Testament … God is definitely on the side of the widow, the poor, the orphan and the powerless. God has a special place in his heart for them.

But that divine solicitude does not come falling down like rain from heaven. It has to be incarnated in and through the lives of concrete people who heed the teachings of the Lord.

That divine solicitude comes shining through the outrage of the Filipino netizens and civil society, who allow their faith to bear on this issue of human sinfulness.

But today, at least in this Mass, I would like to offer a question for each one of us, including myself …

Am I an incarnation of this love, mercy and compassion of God? Do I give my all and do I give, not from my surplus, but from my need?

Those two widows were heroes, no less.


What about you? Are you hero or heel?