17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: GOD’S WAY AMIDST WORLD HUNGER

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Despite the advance technology and economic progress the world has achieved today, many still go hungry and/or do not receive proper nutrition. During the pandemic, many people not just died because of the virus but also because of hunger and illness due to unavailability of the proper kind of food to many.

The readings for today’s 17th Sunday in ordinary time deals with hunger and how God responded to it. We read today of the famous miracle of the multiplication of loaves both in the first reading and the gospel.

In the first reading from the second book of Kings (2 Kg 4:42-44), the prophet Elisha tells a man with twenty barley loaves to distribute them to a hundred men, and the man goes and does it, with “some left over.”

In the responsorial psalm, Psalm 145, the Psalmist says:

“The hand of the Lord feeds us;
the Lord answers all our needs.”

The Psalmist goes on to say that the Lord satisfies the desire of every living thing.

The little story from Elisha provides the literary prototype of the miraculous feedings in the Gospels (the multiplication of loaves is recorded in all the gospels). In the gospel today taken from John, Jesus takes the lead in feeding the crowd. Jesus fed about five thousand with five barley loaves and a couple of cooked fish, and there were even leftovers. The gospel story shows God’s/Jesus’ ability to transform too little into more than enough. God desires that everyone should find food in abundance.

The multiplication of loaves and fishes is more than a miracle. It’s an alternative way of life that God offers to the people. What happens on that hillside is an indication of how God wants the world to operate. It is a way of life and spirituality of multiplication. When we give away what we have, when we sacrifice even out of our scarcity, then God blesses our gifts and multiplies them, and there’s enough for everybody and even more.

Sadly, today’s reality is miles away from God’s desire. Many people die from malnutrition, disease and preventable hunger even though we grow enough grain in the world to provide for every man, woman, and child.

The Second Reading from Ephesians tells us to “make every effort to preserve the unity which has the Spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force.” The problem with the world is its fragmentation; it lacks unity and peace. There is a great divide between the haves and the haves not. And the gap is growing everyday, thanks to the present order of neo-liberal capitalism. The problem is not with God’s providence, for God has provided us with enough food for everyone. The problem is the divisions in the world maintained by a socio-economic system that directly and indirectly prevent food from getting to people or keep people away from the food.

We ordinary people also have contributed to this malaise. There is so much waste, for example, in rich countries while there is so much shortage in poor countries. According to the ABC, Australians throws away $8 billion worth of edible food in the bin each year.

Our planet has more than enough food to feed the more than 7 billion people all over the world. God has given blessings to the world: if only we could learn to use those blessings for the benefit of all. As Vatican II’s, Gaudium et Spes: Constitution on the Church in the Modern World urges us all,

Since there are so many people in this world afflicted with hunger, this sacred Council urges all, both individuals and governments, to remember the saying of the Fathers: “Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him you have killed him” (Gaudium et Spes, #69).

Today’s reading serves as an indictment of the present world order. Jesus wants us to take a stock of our lifestyles. Jesus offers us an alternative lifestyle that is counter-cultural to the present world order. Jesus wants us to believe that a world of abundance is possible. But this will demand change in the social system and our attitudes. There is more than enough for everyone if we would believe that everyone deserves a share in the abundant food from nature that God has given us.

Christ comes among us today proclaiming God’s abundant blessings, in his Word, in our community life, and in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is an invitation for us to participate in the miracle of multiplication of food that Jesus has first shown us.

15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: SOME GUIDELINES ON DISCIPLESHIP AND MISSION

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The gospel text today reminds me of our missions in the far-flung barrios in the Philippines. When we are in the mission areas, we usually eat what people eat, sleep on where they sleep and sometimes participate in the work they do like farming, fishing, and harvesting. In this way we followed Jesus’ instruction to his disciples today:

“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.”

But when we enter the area, we brought a lot of heavy equipment and paraphernalia for the mission like amplifier, speaker, microphones, projector, camera and many other things. I guess we were not strictly following Jesus this time:

“He instructed them to take nothing for the journey
but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals
but not a second tunic.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus sends disciples forth with no baggage, no money, not even any food. Instead he provides them with the one essential Resource. He gives them his authority to preach repentance, to cast out demons, to cure the sick. He also remind them to depend on each other, for they are not sent out alone but in partnership “two by two.” With people’s acceptance, Jesus’ authority and the fellowship of one another, the disciples cannot fail.

Even if they are still beginners on the journey of discipleship, Jesus already sent them out on mission by themselves. Imagine the fear and anxiety of the disciples. This shows that being a disciple, is one and at the same time, being a missionary.

The readings today offers some gems of practical guidelines and tips to missionaries and would-be missionaries. The tips comes from no other than our Master–the one who sent us and the one whom we must follow–Jesus.

1. It is not we who chose God, it is God who chose us.

The readings from Amos and Mark tell us about people who were chosen by God for mission. In both cases, the people chosen by God are ordinary even feeble like you and me: Amos is a shepherd and tree dresser, the apostles are mostly fishermen, each with their own frailties. Despite their obvious faults, both Amos and the Twelve were sent out on the authority of divine commission.

2. Travel light

It is appropriate to bring things on our journey to help us in mission. But many times the things we bring hinders rather than helps. Jesus asked his followers to be detached from things which can clutter, obstruct and weigh them down in achieving the goal of proclaiming his gospel in action and word. Jesus wanted his disciples to ‘travel light’ so to be free to live his good news.

3. Simplicity

The third guideline on simplicity is related to the second, traveling light. Both implies removing anything that places the emphasis on oneself and instead putting utmost dependence on God. The second reading from the letter of St Paul to the Ephesians is a call to simplicity:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.”

It reminds us that God made us live in simplicity. It is such an attractive and reassuring message, in a world where we seem to be called to the opposite–possessiveness, indulgence, self-realisation, materialism and an unapologetic participation in unwholesome words, practices and thoughts.

4. God is the primary missionary

We tend to live and work as if everything depends upon us. While we need to be realistic and practical about our role, we cannot lose sight of the One on whom we ultimately depend—Jesus. Our work is the mission of God, not our mission. We are mere participants in this work of God’s mission. Our being missionary is a participation in God who is the primary missionary.

5. We are not alone

Our Lord teaches the wisdom of “not going it alone” on our spiritual journey, especially when we’re trying to share our faith or live it in its very public dimensions. In the process of taking our faith out into the world and living it, we may not need a lot of baggage, but we do need other people of faith to support us; to inspire us, guide, help and challenge us – to the message clearly in our hearts. There is no such thing as a solo Christian and it is not something that we can do best at home by ourselves

6. God is there even before we arrived

Our readings also concur with a very important missiological principle. Wherever we go, the area and the people contains inchoate seeds for the flourishing of the gospel. Every culture and religion has the inchoate seed to reach full potential in God’s mission. Thus, before the missionary arrives, God has already sowed God’s gift of divine life to the people. As the famous advice of Max Warren for missionaries says, “When you go into a mission area, take off your shoes, for the ground that you are standing is holy—God was here before your arrival.”[1] It is not we who bring God to the mission area, it is God who brought us there.

Let us take these gems to heart so we can be effective disciples and missionaries in our world today.


[1] Max Warren, “Preface to John V. Taylor,” The Primal Vision (London: SCM Press, 1963), p. 10.

14TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: WHY THE WORLD HATES PROPHETS

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Every now and then in the Baclaran shrine, we get reactions from devotees especially when we preach on social issues in the light of the gospel. Some say that they went to the shrine to seek spiritual solace and peace, not to be disturbed by the ugly reality of the country or the world. Some say, they came to the shrine to pray, not to become socially aware. When we ask, why we should not preach about the social issues, they would invoke the concept of separation between church and state, misinterpreting it by saying that the church should not preach about social issues because it is the domain exclusively of the state. They say that the church’s only domain is the spiritual and religious like sacraments, prayers and catechesis. Thus, according to them, preaching about issues of justice and peace is tantamount to meddling in politics. When they ask us in return why should we preach about the social ills, we answered that we are just exercising the prophetic dimension of our faith, which everybody should by virtue of their baptism. Then they ask, what is the prophetic dimension? Is that part of our faith?  

In today’s Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus returned to his home-town of Nazareth to also preach there and do mighty deeds as he did in other villages. His own people, however, did not accord him as much welcome as in other towns and villages he went to. Thus, he was not able to perform any mighty deeds there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. Thus, he said:

“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and among his own kin and in his own house.”

In the Bible, we see that all too frequently God’s prophets faced rejection and resistance. Prophets both in the Bible and in the long history of Christianity have suffered hostility and even violent deaths. The story of Ezekiel in the first reading describes the lot of God’s faithful servants, which was also the lot of Jesus.

“I am sending you to the Israelites,
rebels who have rebelled against me;
they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day.
Hard of face and obstinate of heart
are they to whom I am sending you.”

In the Second Reading, St. Paul also describes what awaits the prophet: mistreatment, distress, persecutions and difficulties. But he rejoices that he knows the power of God best in his weakness, as he lives out the prophetic role of witnessing to the gospel. Otherwise what he said and did might have been attributed to his own brilliance.

That I, Paul, might not become too elated,
because of the abundance of the revelations,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan,
to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Today, those who dared to be prophets receive the same treatment. Martin Luther King died for promoting the equality of all human beings irrespective of race. Mahatma Gandhi died because, as a Hindu, he was friendly with Muslims. Bishop Oscar Romero was shot and killed during the consecration at the mass because he denounced the exploitation of the poor. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged by Hitler because he attacked the racist evils of Nazism. Our very own Redemptorist Fr. Rudy Romano whom, on July 11, we will be celebrating the 36th year of his abduction by military men because of his work for the poor and defense of human rights. Until now he remains missing, presumed to be dead.

A prophet will not be honored in this world, even his own will disown him. Because a prophet talks about values which the lords of this world abhors and are terrified–justice, freedom, truth, and love–values which God in Jesus Christ also died for. A prophet talks about values not of this world, about power not of earthly authorities, but of values and power of a totally different kind, a new world that is to come through Jesus Christ.

Thus, everyone of us as followers of Christ and because of our baptism, is called to be a prophet. We are called to spread the message of the Gospel in our families, in our working places, among our friends, in our society. Whatever is happening we have to be ready to proclaim and defend truth, love, justice, freedom, people’s rights and dignity. These we cannot compromise; we cannot keep silent in the face of evil and values contrary to the gospel.

But why do we find it so hard to accept our prophetic identity, besides obviously, the perils of being a prophet?  Inasmuch as there is an innate calling in us to be prophets, there is in each of us the innate desire to deny the prophet. We reject not only the prophets around us. We reject the prophet within us. This is what American Jesuit John Kavanaugh, calls the repression of the prophetic and heroic impulse in our own very self. Most often, we are skeptical of the possibility that we ourselves could be prophetic or heroic. In the tradition of so many other reluctant prophets, we use our proximity to ourselves as our excuse.

“I am too young, too unprepared, too old, too weak and sinful, too busy and preoccupied, too homely, too nice. If only I could fly to a far-off place and some other time, in disguise, armed with stirring rhetoric and bright virtue. If only I could seize the pulpit or get the ear of the bishop, or be a holy subversive in the college of cardinals. Then, then I could prophesy.”[1]

May we, in the spirit of St. Paul, find that the grace of God is sufficient for us, so that we can live our prophetic calling. Like St. Paul we can also proclaim, “for power is made perfect in weakness … for when I am weak, then I am strong.”


[1] John Kavanaugh, SJ, “Prophetic Living,” The Word Encountered: Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. Accessed at http://liturgy.slu.edu/14OrdB070818/theword_kavanaugh.html



June 20 – 3rd Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Face of Mary

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We are now on our third day of our novena in preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27. While we will be praying the Novena, we will also contemplate on the icon–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts for nine days.

The contemplation of the icon can be done either before or after praying the novena. It would be most appropriate to have an Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon in front of you. You can adorn it with candles and some flowers.

For the third day of the Novena we will contemplate on the Face of Mary

The mouth of Mary is small because it is already transformed in its heavenly form; she no longer needs the food our world gives. It is sealed because prayer needs silence and fervent attention on God.

Her nose is long and slender which evokes honor. It is no longer dependent on the aroma of the world but only to Christ and to the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit.

The ears of Mary are not given much attention and it is almost hidden under her veil. This implies that it is no longer fascinated with the sounds of the world but only to the word and command of God.

Her high forehead indicates the power of the Spirit and wisdom which bows down before the infinite love of God.

The main letters on each side of Mary are the Greek words MP-ΘΥ (Meter Theou) which means “Mother of God.”

Let us contemplate and gaze at the face of Mary, her ears, mouth and nose, in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

O Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us so that in the midst of our difficulties and trials in life we can discover the beauty, goodness and truth of God’s love. Lead us to Jesus your son, the way, the truth and the life. May we follow your example as a disciple of Jesus by being totally open and cooperative to God’s plan and word in our lives.

12TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: STRUGGLING WITH GOD

When we find ourselves at the darkest and deepest pit of misery and despair, when all is lost and we have nowhere to run to and no one to call, perhaps we may have cried to God for help and pleaded with God to redeem us from the abyss of gloom and agony. But perhaps it was not just a gentle cry for help but also expressions of questioning even anger at God. “Where are you God in all my travails? Why have you let this happen to me? Why are you so far from me? Why are you sleeping while the mighty storms of life batters me from all directions?”

Others may be scandalized by this and say that despite all the hardships, we need not question God or worst get angry at God. For this may be a sign of a lack of faith and disrespect, or worst, hostility towards God. But questioning and getting angry at God may also be the starting point to a deeper trust, loyalty and faith in God.

This is the experience of our characters in the readings for today’s 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In the first reading, Job was grappling with his belief in God in the context of the terrible afflictions that has befallen him. Job was struggling to find words to explain his tremendous suffering in view of the fact that he had always walked uprightly before God.

God had long delayed answering Job’s prayers. But when God finally answered Job, God reminded him that God’s utter providence and benevolence will finally empower Job to pass over from all his suffering. As we read in today’s first reading,

Who shut within doors the sea,
when it burst forth from the womb;
when I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling bands?
When I set limits for it
and fastened the bar of its door,
and said: Thus far shall you come but no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stilled!

In the gospel, the disciples of Jesus were complaining why Jesus was sleeping even though the turbulence is close to flooding the whole boat they were all riding in. The gospel reads,

A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Just like God with Job, Jesus reminded the disciples of God’s power by stilling the wind and calming the waves.

He woke up,
rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

Like Job and the disciples, we too struggle with our belief and trust in God especially in the most difficult times. Especially during this pandemic, many felt that God is so far away or even have abandoned us. How can we believe in a loving God when people around us are dying and thousands suffer due to job loss, hunger and loneliness because of covid-19? Despite the pandemic, however, we found the opportunity to truly discern the most essential things in life and found support and strenght in one another. As Pope Francis reflecting on today’s gospel passage in the midst of the pandemic, says

Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat … are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “we are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

Pope Francis, Urbi et Orbi
address on Jesus calming the storm

Faith in God is not an easy feat. More often than not, we struggle with God, especially in times of difficulties, suffering, and death. For true faith is not merely the membership in a church nor the assent to dogmas nor the obedience to laws and commandments. True faith is the acceptance of God’s sovereignity in our lives and God’s reign in the world. This involves total surrender, trust and commitment to God.

Our Lord does not cause the pain and sorrows of our lives. In the midst of our suffering and difficulties, God induces our faith and trust in him to allow God’s love to empower us. He cares enough about us to allow pain and sorrow to find us and to stretch us and to open doors to a deeper relation with him.

But more than this, God joins us, and invites us to join him in the saving, widening power of reversal: instead of only happy, painless living, we are allowed to take part in human form in this life of God.

June 19 – 2nd Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Child Jesus

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In preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27, we will be praying the Novena for nine days. The purpose of the novena is not just to bring our needs and aspirations to God through the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. More importantly, in praying the novena we allow Mary to bring us to Jesus in order to follow him—the true path to God. This is the main message of the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

It would be a great means, therefore, that we do not just pray the novena, but also contemplate on the icon–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts. Unlike the novena, contemplation is done more in silence gazing at the icon. Contemplation comes from the Latin word contemplari which means “to gaze, observe, behold.”  To contemplate the icon is to be aware and to behold Mary and God’s love and presence. Contemplation is entering into God’s presence where Mary and the saints are now residing. It is placing our lives into the life of God. It is finding our story in God’s story. Contemplation evokes a response of waiting, loving, trusting, and obeying. Ultimately contemplation leads us to live our daily lives and experiences in the example of Mary following the path of Jesus towards true happiness and peace.

The contemplation of the icon can be done either before or after praying the novena. It would be most appropriate to have an Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon in front of you. You can adorn it with candles and some flowers.

For the second day of the Novena we will contemplate on the child Jesus in the icon.

If we look closely at the face of the child Jesus, he does not portray a child’s face but one like a “small adult”; this illustrates both the humanity and divinity of Jesus.

The eyes of Jesus are not looking at Mary but above, even outside of the icon. The eyes of Jesus are looking at God the Father with a mixture of sadness and joyful hope. The cross will bring pain and death but it will also lead to the glory of all humankind in the time to come.

The hands of Jesus lovingly cling to the right hand of Mary. This symbolizes the humanity of Jesus; because of his fear, he placed his life here on earth in the hands of Mary.

The Greek letters IC-XC (Iesus Xristos)at the right of the head of Jesus are the letters for “Jesus Christ.”

Let us now contemplate and gaze on the Child Jesus in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

O Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us so that in the midst of our difficulties and trials in life we can follow the way of Jesus—the way of  may we find true glory can lead us to Jesus your son, the way, the truth and the life. May we follow your example as a disciple of Jesus by being totally open and cooperative to God’s plan and word in our lives.


To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of novena in English, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-english.pdf. To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of the novena in Tagalog, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-tagalog.pdf. For a guide on how to pray the novena at the shrine, click this link: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-the-shrine/.  For a guide on how to pray the novena at home, click this link: .https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-home/.

For more information on how to contemplate and pray with an icon, click this link: https://aleteia.org/2018/09/12/how-to-pray-with-icons-a-brief-guide/.

June 18 – 1st day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

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Today we begin the 9 days novena in preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27.

To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of novena in English, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-english.pdf. To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of the novena in Tagalog, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-tagalog.pdf. For a guide on how to pray the novena at the shrine, click this link: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-the-shrine/.  For a guide on how to pray the novena at home, click this link: .https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-home/.

The purpose of the novena is not just to bring our needs and aspirations to God through the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. More importantly, in praying the novena we allow Mary to bring us to Jesus in order to follow him—the true path to God. This is the main message of the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

It would be a great means, therefore, that we do not just pray the novena, but also contemplate on the icon–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts. Unlike the novena, contemplation is done more in silence gazing at the icon. Contemplation comes from the Latin word contemplari which means “to gaze, observe, behold.”  To contemplate the icon is to be aware and to behold Mary and God’s love and presence. Contemplation is entering into God’s presence where Mary and the saints are now residing. It is placing our lives into the life of God. It is finding our story in God’s story. Contemplation evokes a response of waiting, loving, trusting, and obeying. Ultimately contemplation leads us to live our daily lives and experiences in the example of Mary following the path of Jesus towards true happiness and peace.  For more information on how to contemplate and pray with an icon, click this link: https://aleteia.org/2018/09/12/how-to-pray-with-icons-a-brief-guide/.

The contemplation of the icon can be done either before or after praying the novena. It would be most appropriate to have an Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon in front of you. You can adorn it with candles and some flowers.

For the first day of the Novena we will contemplate on the eyes of Mary in the icon.

  1. First Day: Eyes of Mary

When we gaze at the icon, the first thing we see is Mary because she occupies the largest part of the icon. The biggest thing that gets our attention is Mary looking at us; not to Jesus, not to heaven nor to the angels above her head.  She is looking intently at all of us; she seems to have a very important message for us.  Her eyes are solemn and sad which draws our attention

If we would look at the icon from any angle, the eyes of Mary look on us, inviting us to enter into the mystery of the icon.  The eyes of Mary are the doorway between our lives here on earth and the life of glory in heaven. The eyes of Mary in the icon are the bridge linking our life on earth and the eternal life with God.  Through the eyes of Mary, we are called to be part of the icon, to participate in the icon by imitating her selflessness. The message of Mary in the icon is that we are not the center; we are mere parts of the mission of God.

Mary’s gaze upon us, however, is sorrowful because Mary sees our misery here on earth.  Mary feels the pain and suffering that we undergo daily. Her gaze, therefore, is also a gaze of mercy and compassion.

Let us contemplate and gaze at the eyes of Mary in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

O Mother of Perpetual Help, lead us to Jesus your son, the way, the truth and the life. May we follow your example as a disciple of Jesus by being totally open and cooperative to God’s plan and word in our lives.

Amen.

11TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN OUR DAILY LIFE

Everyday in the news we hear of killings, violence, oppression, suffering, and poverty of majority of our people while an elite few bask in power and wealth. The power of evil seems overwhelming, and the world as a prosperous place seemingly presents itself only for a select few.

In the gospel today, Jesus paints a different picture. Despite all the ugliness and messiness in the world today, the Kingdom of God is very much present and alive in the world today. How did Jesus show this? He showed this by way of parables. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us two parables. But before we look at the two parables of Jesus in the gospel today, let us talk a little bit about parables.

Jesus unlike his contemporary teachers mainly taught in parables. Parables in simplest term are stories. Through parables we see Jesus as a master story teller. Jesus used parables or stories drawn from experiences of daily life to challenge the people, to re-imagine their lives and discover the Kingdom of God hidden underneath their daily existence. Thus, we hear Jesus many times in the gospel, after telling a parable would say, “Those who have ears, hear; those who have eyes, see!” (Mark 4: 9; 23, Matthew 11: 15, Luke 8:8). This shows Jesus’ repeatedly challenging his people to hear and to see the breaking-in of God’s reign right in their midst. In the everyday life, there are pointers, and signs of the reign of God. Although, the full realisation of the reign of God is beyond this world and beyond our time, the people can already discover and experience the magnificent presence of the reign of God in their everyday life.

Let us now look at the parables of Jesus in the gospel today. The two parables of Jesus in the gospel today talks about seeds. The first one is about the parable of the growing seed. It tells the story of the seed that a farmer sowed, grows out of its own accord. Jesus tells the parable as,

a man … scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and through it all the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.

In the parable, we saw that although it is the farmer who scatters the seed, the growth of the seed up to the time when it is ready for harvest, is of its own accord. Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is like this. The Kingdom of God has its own power and dynamism. In Tagalog we say, “may sariling palo, ang kaharian ng Diyos ay may kanyang saring palo at dinamismo.” Despite all the evil and suffering in the world, God’s kingdom of goodness, truth and beauty will continue to grow and blossom. Even if many people will suppress goodness, justice, truth and peace, and many people are not doing anything about it, the Kingdom of God of goodness, justice, truth and peace, will still continue to grow and will reach its fulfillment in God’s time.

St. Paul expressed the same confidence in the second reading today. Despite the seeming triumph of evil, God’s kingdom is present and actively working in the world today. Why? St. Paul simply says in 2 Corinthians 5: 7, “for we walk by faith, not by sight”.

This same confidence is proclaimed by the prophet Ezekiel in the first reading. Ezekiel proclaimed that God will

bring low the high tree,
lift high the lowly tree,
wither up the green tree,
and make the withered tree bloom.
As I, the LORD, have spoken, so will I do (Ezekiel 17: 24).

Jesus’ parable of the growing seed which proclaims the hidden power and presence of God’s kingdom in today’s gospel, does not mean however, that God is patronizing evil and encouraging people to do nothing. A patient God works with the sinfulness and the messiness of our world. In the whole Bible, we saw how God utilizes the smallest of events, the small people, the weak and the humble, rather than the strong, the mighty, and the proud. God’s way of building his Kingdom is not the quick-fix solution of eradicating evil or the show of force to effect change but the gradual day-to-day hard work, perseverance and collective action of everyone. Ultimately, God’s small and patient ways of presence and action will pave the way for the decisive victory of God’s kingdom

This runs counter to many of the populist demands today that brags of the power of the mighty and strong to apply quick-fix solution to many of our problems today, for example, the call to kill all addicts to eradicate the menace of drug addiction, the call to bomb Muslim countries to eradicate extremism, the call to exterminate the NPA’s in order to have peace in our nation. Similarly, Jesus’ parable run counter to the populist demand of reducing the other just because they are different, for example, the call to rid of immigrants, the call to deride the LGBTQ, the call to ostracize the other of different status, color, gender and ethnicity and the call to eradicate and discard the sinners and misfits among us.

The second parable of Jesus is about the mustard seed. Jesus tells us the story about the mustard seed which is

the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade. (Mark 4: 31 – 32)

Jesus tells us that this is the same with the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of heaven may start small and with great difficulty, but once it begins to grow, it is unstoppable. In God’s time, the small seed of the mustard plant will grow and become the biggest tree in the entire field.

Many times in the gospels Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of God is present and active in the ‘small’ people–the poor, the infamous, the powerless, the humble, and the simple people who continue to believe and struggle with God. One does not have to be president or king to make a difference; the smallest person is great and powerful. They sacrifice their time, talents and lives in giving life to others and in preparing the world for the coming of God’s kingdom by works of charity, justice and peace building. The kingdom of God is present and alive in small movements of people united and working together in building a just and harmonious society. The kingdom of God is present in our small yet constant acts of kindness, goodness and love to one another especially for the least, the last and the lost.

Jesus parables are stories of grace, patience and hope. Rather than being overcome by discouragement, the parable holds out hope for us. God has sowed good seed in each one of us and through all his creation. It is slowly growing. We just need to nurture God’s good seeds in the world today.

In a world where it seems that the devil has the upper hand, God is not quiet or just watching us from a distance. God is not indifferent to our struggle. God is not unaware of the sufferings and what still needs to be done. God is guiding us and the church in the process of bringing about a good harvest. We need to play this parable over and over again in our imagination and consciousness, especially when things disillusion and discourage us. God’s kingdom of goodness and love, truth and freedom, justice and peace will triumph in the end.

SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST: GOD’S SACRIFICE, OUR SACRIFICE

Baclaran Shrine Community Pantry visited by thousands daily

One of the best things that happened in the midst of the pandemic in the Philippines was the explosion of thousands of community pantries all over the country. The community pantries are community-initiated food bank, which provide free items such as rice, vegetables, canned goods and even facemasks that benefit millions of Filipinos. A handwritten slogan can be spotted on cardboard posters at most of these pantries: “Give according to your means, take according to your need.”

The community pantries at best portrays the people’s bayanihan spirit–the spirit of helping each other especially in times of need. Many poor and hungry people benefitted from the free food offered by community pantries. The community pantries, on the other hand, provided the opportunity for the poor people to offer whatever they have. We heard heaps of stories of generosity from even the poorest in the community contributing to these pantries from whatever they have. Indeed, the community pantries highlights the value of sacrifice–it is a showcase of how people sacrifice their own goods on the one hand and how people benefits from the sacrifice of fellow poor people, on the other.

The community pantries highlight a profound reality of our lives–much of our lives depend on the sacrifice of others–our parents, siblings, friends, community, church, strangers, and yes, many animals and plants. We are sustained and fed by the sacrifice of fellow human beings and the whole of God’s creation.

Sacrifice comes from the Latin words, sacer (holy) and facere (to make). Another similar word that comes from this Latin root word is sacred. Indeed, sacrifice is holy and sacred as it implies the highest form of offering–that of one’s life for the sake of others.

Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi or the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Corpus Christi is the celebration of God’s sacrifice of God’s life for all humanity on the cross. Eucharist is the great event of Christ’s dying on the cross happening right before our very eyes, minus the blood and the gory details. This is not to soften the violence of the event but as the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, the Eucharist is the unbloody renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary itself. Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist not to perpetuate the Last Supper, but rather the sacrifice of the Cross (#1367).

God’s sacrifice on the cross and again and again celebrated in the Eucharist tells us that the giving by God of God’s life is the most sacred thing that God has done for us. The Eucharist is God himself who comes to us, a God who is passionate and loving, who suffered and sacrificed Godself for us. A sacrificing God is what God is love means.  That is why during the benediction, the priest uses the veil in touching and raising the Blessed Sacrament because the Blessed Sacrament as the symbol of God’s sacrifice is to be regarded in the highest and most sacred way, lest it be touched by our unworthy hands.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to say that the Eucharist is the sacrifice of the Church, because being the body of Christ, she participates along with her Head, who is Christ.” (#1368). As we celebrate the Eucharist, we are reminded that the most sacred thing that we can also do in life is to sacrifice our lives for others. Sacrifice is the truest way we can be justified before God.  Sacrifice is the most sacred way to God.

The Eucharist is not just a ritual, a celebration, or an obligation. It is a new time and space where we are transformed into the body of Christ—ready to be broken as a sacrifice for others and for the world. The Eucharist ushers us into a radical mindset and a whole new way of life. We do not just attend the Eucharist and not be drawn into the agape of Christ. God’s self-sacrificing love in the Eucharist is so overflowing and bubbly that it is impossible that it not engulf us, so too we may become love—self-sacrificing persons. Just like in love, we are absorbed into that love that we become that love and love becomes us; it becomes impossible to remain outside as mere spectator of this love. We partake of this love; we become in communion with it.

The Eucharist is a call to follow God’s sacrifice, that despite being broken, our lives become sacred offerings for others.

TRINITY SUNDAY: GOD’S CIRCLE OF LOVE

It’s Trinity Sunday. We celebrate One God, three persons. This is the very core and most important mystery of our faith.

The Trinity as the very core of our faith is also about the meaning of our lives, about who we truly are and our mission in the world.

The Trinity Sunday proclaims to us that God is not a self but a relationship. God is a community. To put it simply, God is love. God is ever loving and ever helping each other, ever forgiving and ever welcoming the other, ever relating, ever cooperating and ever communicating with each other. Thus, God is not static but dynamic. God is not a noun but a verb.

I am reminded of South African Anglican cleric and theologian Desmond Tutu’s speech regarding the African philosophy of Ubuntu. Tutu said that Ubuntu is an idea present in African spirituality that says “I am because we are”, or we are all connected, we cannot be ourselves without community, health and faith are always lived out among others, an individual’s well being is caught up in the well being of others. [1]

The persons in God the Trinity is the person that is totally focused on the other, living totally for the other, welcoming totally the other into one’s own, making room totally for the other, and totally loving the other. Because of this, God is one and three persons. Perfect selflessness. Perfect unity in diversity. As the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century declared:

“[T]the Father is entirely in the Son and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Son is entirely in the Father and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is entirely in the Father and entirely in the Son.”

Thus, when God the Father created the cosmos, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit was entirely with God the Father. When God the Son–Jesus Christ–redeemed us on the cross, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit was entirely with God the Son. When God the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles and set them on fire in proclaiming the gospel, God the Father and God the Son was entirely with God the Holy Spirit.

Our relational God designed us in His own image. Therefore, to be a person is to be related. We are not merely individuals, but persons in community. We were created in the imago Dei to be in relation. As American feminist theologian Catherine LaCugna affirms, we are “meant to exist as persons in communion … not persons in isolation or withdrawal or self- centredness.”[2]  As we are created in God the Trinity, we cannot isolate ourselves, nor become fully autonomous, nor disconnect ourselves from others and God’s creation. “I am because we are!”

As God is a community, relationship and love, we ought to live as a community, opening ourselves always to the other, always relating and cooperating with one another. The Holy Trinity is the model of the family, community, relationships and all collective endeavors.  As God is one and connected to each other, we are also one, we are interconnected to each other; we are not just interconnected to each other but to whole of God’s creation. As God is unity and diversity we should be united even as we open ourselves to diversity and celebrate difference. Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff declares the Trinity as the basis of liberation,

“From the communion of the three divine Persons derive impulses to liberation: of each and every human person, of society, of the church … Society offends the Trinity by organising itself on a basis of inequality and honours it the more it favours sharing and communion for all.” [3]

British missiologist Leslie Newbigin proclaims that salvation can only be found in the Trinitarian communion,

There can be no salvation for human beings except in relatedness. No one can be made whole except by being restored to the wholeness of that being-in-relatedness for which God made us and the world and which is the image of that being-in- relatedness which is the being of God Himself. [4]

The whole focus of Trinity Sunday really is not what the Trinity is but how God the Trinity lived.  The whole focus of Trinity Sunday is how we experience and participate in the circle of love of the Trinity. The whole focus of Trinity Sunday really is not whether or not to understand the Trinity but how to live and follow the example of God the Trinity.

As the Nike ad declares, “just do it!”


[1] Giampiero (October 13, 2007). “Breaking News: Madonna’s Malawian Doc. Is Titled ‘I Am Because We Are’”. DrownedMadonna. Archived from the original on November 9, 2007.

[2] Catherine LaCugna, God For us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: Harper-San Francisco, 1973), 383.

[3] Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005), 236.

[4] Leslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995., 70.