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Saturday, January 30, 2016

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

N.B. I have been so taken up with so many tasks these days that I could not come up with my usual Sunday reflections for Pan de la Semana.

I am reposting something that I originally posted in January 31, 2010.

A familiar and favorite biblical character meets us as the Liturgy of the Word unfolds with the first reading in today’s celebration – Jeremiah – young, innocent, inexperienced, intimately loved by the Lord who, on account of that same love, called him and sent him to speak against “kings and princes, priests and people.” We know that despite his initial and later protestations, Jeremiah did as the Lord had told him.

He spoke to a fickle people whose attitudes ranged from crying unabashedly as the Law of Moses was read (as we heard last week), raising their hands proclaiming unalloyed Amens to the same Law, to fighting and flailing against God’s emissaries the prophets, complaining as they also did to Moses during their wanderings in the desert. 

Jeremiah was sent to an interiorly conflicted people, who gave conflicting and even contradictory responses to a loving summons from a God whose love was unfailing and everlasting!

We see the same conflicting signals/responses from a people who stand witness to a momentous, historically significant event of Jesus unfolding the scroll and proclaiming: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Now, “all spoke highly of him.” Now, “they were filled with fury.” Now they are drawn with awe by his marvelous deeds; now, they are driven with hatred by his fearless pronouncements, wanting to “hurl him down headlong” from the brow of the hill.

We are a fickle, conflicted and ambivalent people much like the Israelites; our history pretty much like theirs – a history marked by sin and repentance, disobedience and forgiveness, aversion and conversion. Now we are filled with so much love; now imbued with so much hatred. Our moral temperature rises and falls like the weather; our commitments ebb and flow with the tides. We are, indeed, a “stiff-necked and rebellious people.” But on our better, more enlightened days, we willingly proclaim: “I will sing of your salvation.”

We are a people obviously in need of salvation. We are the people to whom prophets like Jeremiah, whom Brueggemann rightly describes as a prophet “designed by God for conflict,” were sent, and are still being sent in our times. To these prophets, God assures His predilection and love: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” To these same prophets, the Lord is at once honest and straightforward. He does not promise deliverance from difficulties, but He does promise one sure thing – not one of them shall prevail; he shall not get crushed by them!

Once again, we are confronted with the message of hope despite the reality of a conflicted and a conflictual world; a world that responds in a complex – if, contradictory – manner to the call and summons of God.

Today, though, as in every Liturgical celebration, the readings do more than remind us of the need for hope. It also invites and seeks to co-opt us to make that hope a reality. It was definitely a reality for the pious Jew then, who, despite the complexity and conflictuality in their known world and in their personal and social lives, took time to pray: “rescue me, protect me, never put me to shame, deliver me, save me … for you are my rock and my fortress, for you are my hope, O Lord!” (Psalm 71)

This reminds me of the painting done by Charles Pegùy that represents the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity as three little girls, three sisters who are in the act of running forward. Caridad (charity), Fe (faith) and Esperanza (hope), clasping each other’s hand, appear to be running excitedly forward, at the same time and at the same pace. But on closer look, it is actually Esperanza (hope) that takes both Fe and Caridad in tow!

How now do we allow ourselves to be co-opted in a good sense by the spirit of the liturgy, by what the readings today tell us? How do we face a world marred by conflict, characterized by a great deal of complexity, and populated by an anemic, ambivalent and non-committed people such as we are on most occasions? How do we deal with the non-accepting and rejecting side of ourselves that refuses total entry to the Lord in our hearts?

I suggest that we allow the hope (Esperanza) that lingers in our hearts, that little window that we always keep open come what may, that small sliver of belief that brought us to Church this morning, that pushes us to go on praying … I suggest that we allow this hope and this faith to lead us to where St. Paul is leading us – the way to love, the way of love, the way through love, the sister of faith and hope!

Ultimately, what is behind Jeremiah’s perseverance in his difficult, tortuous job, for which even the Lord forewarned him to “gird your loins,” that is, get ready for the tough job ahead, is reducible to the love God had for him. “For it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land.” It is the same love that brought courage and peace to the frightened disciples caught in a squall in mid-sea, a reassuring love of presence of their master and Lord who said: “Courage, it is I!” It is the same love that gave Jeremiah the needed strength despite the torment of getting more and more enemies as he prophesied. It is the same love that brought St. Paul to go through shipwrecks, floggings and imprisonment all for Christ’s sake. It is the same love that wrought our salvation through the path of suffering, death and resurrection of the world’s greatest lover. Only love, aided by faith and hope, can give us the strength to go through this world of conflict, complexity, ambivalence and moral indifference.

St. Paul gives us a listing of at least 15 characteristics of what love is. It is a tall order to do all fifteen all at once. But Jeremiah’s example shows us that working for at least one them can go a long, long way. He stood up and told them “like it is.” He patiently persevered to the end, despite the mixed reactions of his hearers, mostly ridicule and rejection. But his love for God, shown in return for the love he received from Him, gave him the needed strength to thrive and survive in the midst of conflict!

I ask you to remember today the quiet, unassuming Jeremiahs in our midst who go on and preach the Good News in the midst of so much difficulty and rejection, and the most painful of it all - indifference: the Holy Father, the Bishops and priests and deacons, religious women and men, catechists the world over, missionaries, evangelizers all – today’s unheralded heroes who stand up for the right, for the “rights” of God and of all the powerless – the least, the last, the lost and the lowest in this world! Christ’s love urges them to preach; their love for God keeps them going, despite trials and difficulties. In a very real and concrete sense, God remains their fortress and their strength.

God bless them all, and God love us all!

Friday, January 22, 2016


3rd Sunday OT_C


There was a motley crowd before Ezra like we are told in the first reading … men, women, and children.  We are told, furthermore, that “all the people listened attentively to the book of the Law.”

No one was considered dispensable. Each one was deemed important and not disposable. But so, too, was the Word of the Lord. Every word, every phrase, every sentence counted.

Every member, every part, every person counts, too, as far as all three readings are concerned. This much, St. Paul assures us: no part of the body that makes up one whole can say “I quit,” without affecting the totality, the whole, the integrity of the one body that makes up who everyone is, in God’s plan.

Totality … integrity … wholeness … completenens … these are all words that come in handy in today’s reflection on the readings. This is the same integrity and fullness that the Word of the Lord carries … not a letter, not an iota, not a punctuation is  to be done away with, and considered trivial and unimportant.

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul … Not a phrase, not a word, not a letter is useless and out of place.

Galilee was, for the worldly wise, probably a forgettable place. The temple wasn’t there. The seat of power was by no means attached to the place. It was backwater, unimportant, and insignificant.

But the God who loves wholes and totalities and who loves even the unlovable and the forgettable never for a moment thought that Galilee could be dispensed with at anytime.

Jesus went back there. Jesus healed people there. Jesus ministered to the least, the lowest, the last, and the probably the lost. He deemed it proper to go to a synagogue and do an important reading of a passage that summed up what he has come to the world for.

And he did it, just where people needed it most – in a place that did not occupy an important place the in the hearts and thoughts of those who roamed around the corridors of power and prestige.

This is good news for me. I am insignificant. I am unknown and unimportant. I am one of the hoi polloi, with hardly any influence, with not much power to speak of, with nothing that I could boast of, except for my sins!

But it is good news for me because Jesus very clearly came for the likes of me. He came for people not unlike me. And he announced it at a place that didn’t reek too much of important, significance, and power.

Being whole means precisely this … nothing is disposable, throwable and worthless. This is what Paul, too, wanted to say. Every part is parcel of the whole, and not one part can say, “I am out of here.”

We all make one body. We all form the Church that is the Body of Christ. And everyone, every part, every member counts as far as the Lord is concerned. Just like the Word of God, every word, every utterance, every letter of the law and the totality of the law is perfect, refreshing the soul.  His decrees are trustworthy, and his handiwork that is each and everyone of us, is called to greatness.

I know of nothing else. I am convinced of nothing more than this great news. I am part of Christ’s body, the Church, and the Lord has found me significant and salvation-worthy enough for him to pass by a lonely church called a synagogue to announce the greatest news – liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and the proclamation of a year of favor from the Lord.

The best news on top of all this?

It is now happening right here, right now … right where we are.

The Lord’s words are being fulfilled right in our hearing and in our presence. What more are you looking for?

Saturday, January 9, 2016


Baptism of the Lord
January 10, 2016


Christmas season officially ends today with second Vespers. But endings do not just refer to closings. Endings are beginnings, too. And nowhere else is this made clearer as in today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Christmas ends, but the spirit of the celebration goes on with even stronger impetus.

Christ is born. For … for others … for mission … for ministry … for service … for the salvation – the life, if you will – of the world steeped in darkness, but which has seen in His birth, a marvelous light.

Isaiah loses no time and is never ambivalent about whom he refers to – the “chosen one with whom [God] is well pleased.” He is called “for the victory of justice,” “as a covenant for the people,” “a light for the nations,” … along with a longer list of “to do’s”.

He was sent for mission. And mission connotes a list of “to do’s.” All that, in a word, is ministry.

In Tagalog, we have a truism from homespun wisdom: “Hindi araw-araw ay Pasko.” Roughly, it means that not everyday is Christmas, but it really means a whole lot more than that obvious statement. It also means that, after Christmas, after the feast, there is work to do. There is a mission to accomplish. There is service; there is ministry. There are tasks to fulfill.

Those tasks (munus), it has to be stated, are all offshoots of the history-changing event of the birth of the promised Savior!

Let us get down to concrete ramifications right off …

We all were called. We were all baptized in water and Spirit. We were sealed and signed with God’’s grace of salvation. We were made adopted sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, and sealed by the Holy Spirit forever.

But everything signed and sealed ought to be delivered. Everything marked for service for others have to be sent – precisely to do as willed by the sender.

We Christians, baptized in water and Spirit are sealed, not only for salvation, but also for service. We need to understand that Mission and Ministry go hand in hand. And there can be no consecration without mission; no mission without ministry; no salvation as willed by God without service.

The whole Philippines yesterday was once again in devotional mode. Millions attended and followed the procession of the Black Nazarene. The devotion of millions to the Black Nazarene, no matter the protestations of non-Catholics, is basically and essentially devotion to what the statue represents, not to the material statue, and that is precisely the one who, today, was baptized in the Jordan.

But devotion without the corresponding dedication to mission and ministry is not complete; not authentic; not genuine. Prayer without action is an empty shell of an activity. Faith without works is dead. And devotion without the corresponding dedication to help realize, actualize and fulfill what one prays for is pharisaical.

And here is where today’s solemnity of the Lord’s Baptism shines out in full …
Our attachment to God has to have the same “sparks” and “dramatic element” – what Daniel Donovan refers to as “dynamic and almost explosive quality about it.”

And this is no mere dramatics. This is no mere sensationalistic reportage.  When the Lord was baptized,  a voice cried out: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Will the Lord be pleased with us, if all we did was wallow in tinsel and foil and celebrate an empty Christmas devoid of mission and ministry? Will the Lord be pleased with our empty devotion devoid of dedication and commitment to the betterment of the world and for the good of others?

Make no mistake about it. You are called. You are sent. For mission. For ministry.

Saturday, January 2, 2016


Solemnity of the Epiphany
January 3, 2016


The liturgy goes for a splurge today. There is much allusion to light, to brilliance, to shining and rising splendor and the refulgence of God’s glory. The Church pulls out all the stops today and celebrates what used to be the original Christmas feast – with more than just a twist!

We celebrate much more than the birth of the Savior. We also celebrate the “unveiling,” the “manifestation” – the epiphany, for short – of who the Child is – for us and in Himself.

He is Savior. He is Son of God. He is the human visible face of the invisible God, who had been revealing Himself gradually in and through the unfolding events in history.

Once upon a time, a technique in painting called “chiaroscuro” was the fad. It was basically a technique that played on a contraposition between two seemingly opposing elements: light and shadow, clarity and cloudiness.

Today’s feast, for all its brilliance and refulgence, is not without its own shadows. Lurking behind the brilliant light of the Savior’s birth was the shadow of human envy, human greed, and human sinfulness, aptly represented by the reclusive figure of Herod, who had other ideas far different from those of the Magi.

The Magi have come in search of the child – to pay Him homage.

The Herod has come to also want to look for the child at all cost – to do Him damage!

We have in our human hearts all too prone to the very same situation of lights and shadows, to be sometimes overtaken, too, by the forces of darkness. We are envious. We are devious. We could be harmful to others, and we could be harrowingly horrible to the innocent.

We are all a story of chiaroscuro – light and darkness, good and evil. We could be representing the magi, or we could as well be the machinating and manipulative court jesters and magicians.

I am the first to acknowledge how capable I am of doing good, and how expert I also could be at causing harm.

But today, the liturgy would rather focus on the light, rather than the darkness. For our Savior has come to His creation, even if the very same handiwork of His refused Him. He came, precisely, as light to pierce the ultimate darkness of SIN.

And today, make no mistake about it. He came as Light. And the darkness will never overpower Him. Not then. Not now. Not ever. For then, as now and for always, “the star that they had seen at its rising precedes them – and us.”

Glory be to the Father. Glory be to the Son. Glory be to the Holy Spirit. God’s glory shines forever and ever!