20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: OUR BAPTISM OF FIRE

candles_shrine

Prophets are disturbers of “peace” and “trouble makers.” This is demonstrated in our readings for today’s 20th Sunday in ordinary time.

In the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah has been predicting the impending destruction of Jerusalem as a judgment from Yhwh. Quite naturally, the King and his officials regard this kind of talk as defeatist and treasonable, so it sought to silence Jeremiah by lowering him into a muddy cistern. But on this occasion his life is spared through the good offices of Ebedmelech the Ethiopian.

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus is again speaking to his disciples with the crowd hanging around. To the shock of them all, he told them that he has come “not to establish peace on earth.” “Division” is his blazing, heart-driven desire. It will produce divisions even within a family. He refers to this as a “baptism” with which he wishes to immerse the earth.

How can the Prince of Peace, the preacher of the message of nonviolence that we hear in the Sermon on the Mount speak the hard words of today’s Gospel?

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.”

We all want and seek peace. But more often than not, the kind of peace that we want and seek is “do not disturb me”, the peace of “let us not make problems”, the peace of “everything is fine”, a superficial peace-ful co-existence. This peace is the earthly peace. Jesus has come to bring us the true peace, the fullness of the gifts of God. God’s peace may run contrary to eathly peace, thus, in the eyes of many people, it is called “division”.

True peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather, the fruit of justice and the pursuit of a society mirroring the divine qualities and values of the triune God. As Vatican II’s Church in the Modern World proclaims,

Peace is not merely the absence of war; nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies; nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called an enterprise of justice. Peace results from that order structured into human society by its divine Founder, and actualized by [people] as they thirst after ever greater justice.

                                                                                                             Gaudium et Spes, #78

The Baclaran shrine and the Redemptorist missionaries has always been critical and vocal about whatever it sees in society as contrary to the values of Jesus’ gospel.  Recently, in our vigorous condemnation of the extra-judicial killing in the country, we have heard people say that why would we not just leave the government alone and cooperate with its “war on drugs.” We told them that we all want a drugless and peaceful society and we have cooperated and have exerted efforts and established programs for this purpose in our mission and the shrine.  But it is our Christian duty to denounce evil wherever and whenever it occurs.  We cannot have true spiritual solace and peace, while there are killings, massive poverty and injustice all around us.

Because of our stance, some devotees have said that they will no longer go to our shrine and will pray and attend sacraments elsewhere. This is the price we have to pay for our active promotion of justice and peace and preferential option for the poor–division among our churchgoers and devotees.

But our baptism is a baptism of fire! We are baptised into the fire of Jesus which emboldens us to work and give our lives in the pursuit of true peace and justice. There will be no peace if we fail to confront wrongdoings. Our failure to confront wrongdoers doesn’t result in peace for them either. As Scripture says, there is no peace for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22, 57:21).

Our church is a church on fire. We are not just a feel good church. We are perpetually disturbed and discomforted by any abuse, injustice and oppression with us and in society. We accept the presence of conflict within us and in our society but make this as an opportunity to work toward true justice, reconciliation and peace.

Christ calls us to be on fire for goodness and love. Our God is a consuming fire of love, and there is peace for us only if we are at one with him in that fire.

Advertisements

19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: FAITH AS ACTUALIZATION OF HOPE

devotee-hope

Usually, my reflection every Sunday centers on the gospel and the first reading. Seldom do I refer to the second reading.

For a change, on this 19th Sunday in ordinary time I would like to focus my reflection on the second reading,  the letter to the Hebrews 11,1-2.8-19.

The first verse of the second reading says it all,

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.

This opening verse gives us a simple definition of what faith is. Faith is more of an end-product, a realization, an actualization of hope. It also proves true the things that are intangible and incomplete for now.

Here in Baclaran, people come to the shrine to be inspired and renewed in the midst of their suffering and struggles. Many devotees see the Baclaran shrine as a symbol of faith and hope. Their devotion to OMPH gives hope to not just surrender to the predicament they find themselves in their current situation.

The sick, unemployed, frustrated, lost, loveless, and suffering, destitute as they are—spiritually or materially, they open their hearts to reach out to God and to fellow men and women in despair. They find hope from fellow hopeless devotee.  When one hear the thousands sing and pray the novena in unison one cannot help but experience courage and hope, which provide the strength to go on amidst the struggles in life.

Strengthened by hope, devotees not only pray for what they want, but aim to be set free towards the life they honestly hope to attain.  In this spirit, devotees experience hope as an active disposition–never surrendering to apathy and indifference.  Their hope, directed by Our Mother of Perpetual Help towards the Good News of Jesus Christ, is the refusal to accept the status quo

In this spirit, the prayer that the people pray—novena and personal prayers—becomes not just supplication but aspiration. Their prayer serves as a narrative and metaphor, an expression of aspirations of the longed for reality, the desire for new world.  Through their devotion, devotees are invited in hope to see beyond the present age. Our Mother of Perpetual Help invites the devotee to be a “hoper,” who is impatient with evil and death in this present age.

Hope is what gives us confidence in the possibility that those things, which are now so destructive of human well-being, will be overcome. Hope speaks to a world vividly aware of the “not yet” dimensions of human and social existence, and of the fact that hope at its human level is of the stuff of meaningful existence. It is hope that changes us, hope that changes the world.

Looking through the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, the devotees are led to see an “it-could-be-otherwise” world. The icon invites the devotees to see behind and beyond their world—with all its sufferings, hardships, hopelessness, injustice, violence, enslavements – in anticipation of a possible world full of possibilities. In this sense, the icon is an agency of hope, a hope which defies even the most destructive force in our world today that in the midst of the violence, chaos, madness, misery of our lives here on earth, there is a “beyond-this-world” that is totally opposite our world today (magnificat) already growing but will reached its fullest potential through the most creative and dynamic power and grace of God in the end.

In the gospel today, Jesus said that his followers must acquire a vigilant, always ready and vibrant attitude for his return.

You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect,
the Son of Man will come.”

Preparing and waiting for Christ return requires an active disposition in hope. It is not just passive acceptance of status quo but working for the coming of the Kingdom of God. It means combatting poverty; ending the hatreds that divide us; establishing peace among individuals, within families, in society, and among the nations of the world; curbing the pride that causes us to become confrontational with God and with each other; building social structures that respect the dignity of individual human persons.

18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE FUTILIY OF ALL HUMAN PURSUITS

adult-clothes-dark-159069

Are you searching for meaning from all your individual pursuits and toils?

In the first reading of today’s 18th Sunday in ordinary time, from the book of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth, the main character or spokesperson in the book, says that all individual pursuits are vanity.

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities!  All things are vanity!

We usually equate vanity with excessive pride in oneself or in one’s appearance, a picture of conceit and perhaps even arrogance. But in Ecclesiastes  “vanity” translates the Hebrew hebel, which means “vapor, breath,” which implies “empty or valueless,” fleeting, like a vapor.  Qoheleth finds no meaning in all our individual pursuits, but declares it meaningless! Everything is futile, Qoheleth reiterates,

What profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days, sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest.

What a gloomy and dark picture Qoheleth paints about life! On the other hand, Qoheleth provides us with a brutally honest questioning of all our aspirations, struggles and dreams.  Indeed everything in this physical world is transitory, ephemeral, impermanent and without any enduring substance. We often try to cling to things, and attempt to resist changes, but alas that is wasted effort, like trying to chase the wind. Qoheleth sees through the illusions of all our ambition and offers the most despairing of answers—there is no answer.

So does this mean that we should not strive anymore for anything? Does this mean that we should just do nothing or just eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we will die?

The second reading provides a meaningful way out of Qoheleth’s dilemma. St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians, tells the Colossians that they can only find meaning in their lives by seeking what is above and sharing in the risen life of Jesus. What matter most is not the earthly individual pursuits but putting on the new self of the victorious life in Christ:

Brothers and sisters:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above ,..

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another,
since you have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its creator.

The Gospel further deepens the thoughts of the first two readings. In the Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about a very rich man who produced a huge harvest one year. He was busy tearing down his storage barns to build still larger ones so he could hoard more into them.

He stores for future lean years, but not simply for his own pleasure. When the village smallholders have to come to him and borrow grain, he will charge an exorbitant price in hopes of confiscating even more land for himself.

“You have ample goods laid up for many years,” said the fool.
“Relax, eat, drink, and be merry”

The rich fool is a man who lived his life without reference to God and was caught in the toils of futility and meaninglessness (“vanity of vanities!”). He organized his life without reference to the transcendent; he did not “seek the things that are above.”

But Jesus was more than just spiritual, he was also practical. What should the fool have done? He might have done what Jesus praised the shrewd steward for doing (Luke 16:1-9): using surplus wealth as a means to gain friends so that when the wealth is gone, the friends will remain and repay the kindnesses, as this culture expects.

The readings for this 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time are warnings about the illusions of individualist and selfish pursuits that beset many of us. The anxiety and toil of Ecclesiastes, the idolatry and obsessions mentioned in Colossians, the voracious greed portrayed in the gospel parable all clamor for our attention.

The readings for today gives us a profound perspective for determining the worth of our lives. The readings teach us that life is not just about wealth, the bald facts of human mortality and the transiency of material possessions. Any reliance on wealth and possessions is pure folly—both worldly possessions and this life are fleeting. 

Many would determine a person’s worth by the greatness of their house or their status and position in life or their portfolio or the make of their car. Whatever good is in them is transient; they die when you do. As the saying goes, you can’t take any of them with you when you die.

What then are the things that last in this life? Love lasts. Work done for the love of others especially the poor, needy and oppressed lasts. Most of all, the inheritance that only God can give: the fullness of eternal life. What truly last is spending our life dispossessing ourselves of anything which hinders us from growing into the fullness of life.

 

17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: PRAYER AS PERSISTENCE

persistence in prayer

I just came back from visiting our home in Bicol, Philippines for the celebration of 93rd birthday of my father.  It was just a simple family celebration to give thanks to God for having given my father such a long life. He doesn’t have any major illness but just general weakness and immobility due to old age.

During the mass in celebration for his birthday, we all shared about the legacy of our father. We all agreed that one of the lasting and greatest legacy he has left us is the value of persistent prayer. He taught us to pray daily the Rosary as a family together. He told us, as well as many people, to pray always. As a Legion of Mary diocesan leader, he would tag us along in going house to house exhorting the people to pray always.

Today’s readings of the 17th Sunday in ordinary time, teach us about persistence in prayer. Jesus in the gospel even tells us to be obstinate in asking God for all our needs.

Abraham in the First Reading continuously bargained and negotiated with God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorah from destruction for the sake of innocent people who lived there. For each of Abraham’s petition, God granted Abrahams prayer.

Jesus recommends the same attitude of persistence in prayer. In the Gospel he tells the famous parable about knocking on the door of a friend late at night to borrow some bread. The friend refuses because he and his family are all in bed. Jesus says, “If he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get out of bed to give him what he needs because of his persistence.”

These readings tell us that prayer is not just mere verbal supplication of our needs but more profoundly a positive and courageous attitude before God. As Pope Francis said, prayer is a courageous “knocking at the heart” of God with a strong unwavering faith that he will respond.

When we pray courageously, the Lord gives us the grace, but he also gives us himself in the grace: the Holy Spirit, that is, himself! Who comes to bring it to me. It’s him. Our prayer, if it is courageous, receives what it asks for, but also that which is more important: the Lord. …

Pope Francis, Vatican City, Oct 10, 2013

In the Baclaran shrine, this persistence in prayer attitude is shown through the letters that devotees write to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  From the thanksgiving letters we read every Wednesday, one important albeit hard insight that devotees learn is that in prayer they receive may not be the answer which they desire, but the answer which God in his wisdom and love knows to be best. In other words, not all petitions from the devotees were answered by God in the exact way and time that the devotees hoped for.

Even though their prayers were not answered in the way they expected it, Our Mother of Perpetual Help empowers and strengthens them as they continue to hope that God will respond to their prayers in the way that God knows what is best for them.  As the devotees pray in the novena, “Make us aware that God never ceases to love us; that He answers all our prayers in the way that is best for us.” Krystelline Jimenez testifies to this conviction in her thanksgiving letter February 3, 2016,

I have prayed the Novena every Wednesday morning for a couple of years now. Some of my petitions were answered with a “no”, some were “not yet” but most were “YES”. But more than the petitions, the Novena gives me a sense of security, a sense of peace, where nothing could ever go wrong. I thank the Lord and Mama Mary for taking care of me and my family despite my shortcomings. Thank you for my whole life, including the No and Not yets.

There are some devotees where many of their petitions were not even answered. Despite this, they continue to come to the shrine. For them, the warm presence and loving gaze of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is enough as it gives them inner peace and strength. This is the experience of Ritchie Limpin who wrote in July 08, 2014,

For a person who has many concerns like me—a single mom who brings up my children alone, it is only to Our Mother of Perpetual Help that I hold on to. I must admit, there are times that I started to ask myself, what do I get out of coming here besides the profound peace I feel whenever I come to this place? Are there any prayers that she has already heard and come true? Despite all of these, I continue to visit her even though sometimes there is nothing that I can think of anymore to pray for. I just remain sitting or kneeling there and praying the novena.

For the petitions answered, however, they are not just graces coming from God but supplemented by human efforts and cooperation. As the Filipino saying goes, “Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa” (Mercy is God’s, action is us) implies that prayer must be complemented by action and action must be supplemented by prayer.

SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY REDEEMER: GOD MUST BE CRAZY

mostholyredeemer

Every third Sunday of July, Redemptorists all over the world celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer. Thus today, all churches, parishes and shrines all over the world under the care of Redemptorist has for its Sunday mass the solemnity of the Most Holy Redeemer in place of the 16th Sunday in ordinary time. This is with special permission from Rome.

All Redemptorists have four letters after their names – C.Ss.R. This stands for
Congregatio Sanctissimi Redemptoris. This is the official Latin title given to its Religious
Order. It can be translated into English as “Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer,” more commonly called “Redemptorists.” On their coat of arms is written: Copiosa Apud Eum Redemptio – With Him There Is Plentiful Redemption.

Indeed, the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer is an expression of joy and gratitude for the great gift of the Redemption. Consider the opening antiphon for this feast, which is taken from Isaiah 61:10 and Psalm 88:2.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God.
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
and with the robe of justice He has covered me.

The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever:
I will show forth your truth with my mouth to generation and generation.

The dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus in the gospel today reveals to us the beautiful truth of God’s redemption:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. …
God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world;
but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3: 16-17).

God’s redemption shows that how God relates to us is simple: God loves everyone, even those who are not lovable, God welcomes everyone as they are.

I remembeer a quote from St Alphonsus Liguori, in his book, The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ:

“Yes, my gentle Redeemer, let me say it, You are crazy with love! Is it not foolish for you to have wanted to die for me? But if You, my God, have become crazy with love for me, how can I not become crazy with love for you?”

God’s love for humankind is intense, indeed, crazy; in human standards, judging the way God loves us, one could easily say that God is a fool. God’s love is welcoming, always offering forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy despite humanity’s unworthiness, sinfulness, pride, belligerence and recalcitrance. In the infamous words of President Duterte, God is stupid.

God’s love and mercy is beyond human capacity.  It is manifested in the Crucified One, the One who ask God’s forgiveness for all those who maligned, scourged, crowned him with thorns and crucified him.

God’s crazy love shows us the way in which we have to reach out to others. To the extent that we ourselves will be called crazy and fools, we need to love others in abundance, unconditionally and beyond imagination. We are called to be God’s fools for God’s love and redemption.

What does it mean to live the crazy love of God in the face of the urgencies of our  contemporary world which is a deeply imbalanced world? On the one hand, there is a secure, sheltered, wealthy humanity, on the other hand, a humanity who is hungry and homeless, a humanity at the mercy of autocratic regimes, wars, powerful rulers, traffickers, a humanity at mercy of climate change – for which entire previously habitable zones are subject to rapid desertification, deforestation, devastating flood and typhoons.

Pope Francis insists that the political, economic and financial strategic choices in our times are the result of decisions that come from the heart of human beings who always have need of repentance and of being sensitized to a more supportive sense of justice and mercy. In other words, there is a need for a radical transformation of our socio-economic structures based on God’s crazy love for humanity. We need to transform our socio-political structures which benefits most of all thouse who are lost, weak, abandoned, deprived and least advantaged.

The redemption of God, however, ultimately concerns eternal life. God redeemed us not just for the brief span of our earthly life, but have marked us out for eternity. Thus, living God’s crazy love goes beyond our finite life here on earth. This also implies that our corporal works and spiritual works of mercy form a whole; they are distinctive and not separate; Jesus redemption is for the whole person.

Happy Feast Day of Most Holy Redeemer!

15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE LAW IS SIMPLE AND NEAR

Good-Samaritan

If you have lived in a barrio in the province, perhaps you may have experienced how being a neighbor means. Being a neighbor is to know someone not just their names, work and other peripherals but more so their needs, problems and aspirations. Being a neighbor is to share whatever you have like food, fruits of the harvest. Being a neighbor is reaching out to someone especially in their time of need.

One time I was invited by a friend to her condo unit. I asked her does she know the people in her neigboring units in the condo. She said no. Usually, in the condo, nobody knows anybody, everybody live their lives each to his/her own, she told me.

Perhaps, this is one of the saddest maladies of modern living. In a supposedly highly connected world we have lost connection with the closest people in our lives–our families, our neighbors. We have become distant to the people who are most physically near to us.

This is also the malady of our faith today. We have lost connection with the heart of our faith. We see our faith as a set of laws that is remote, if not alien, to the concrete reality of our daily lives.

In the First Reading of today’s 15th Sunday in ordinary time, Moses explains that God’s law is not so mysterious and remote. It is already in our mouths and hearts.

“For this command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky, that you should say,
‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,
‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us
and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.”

This suggests that the law is no longer written on tablets of stone but engraved on the hearts of people

In the Gospel, a lawyer, an expert of the law, asks Jesus what is the most important law of all. Jesus asks the lawyer what the latter thinks. Being a typical lawyer, the man says, mechanically, the most important of all the laws:

You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.

But again being the typical lawyer who seem bent on cross-examining Jesus, he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” The lawyer was talking more about the law as the law written on tablets of stone.

Unlike the lawyer, however, Jesus did not respond in a mechanical or legalistic way, but with a parable. But in the end, as we shall see, Jesus will show us the true meaning of the law and how the law is very close to our hearts.

So we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps, we have heard this parable many times. This is my most favorite parable of Jesus. In the parable, a man fell victim to robbers. They beat him terribly, take his money, and leave him lying in the road, half-dead. Three people happen to pass by and saw the man in need: a Priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. The Priest and the Levite merely passed by leaving the man on the street. Only the Samaritan came to the aid of the hapless man. Incidentally, the Priest and the Levite are keepers of the law whereas the Samaritan is seen by many as disobedient to the law.

At the end of the parable, Jesus returns to the heart of the law. Jesus’ concern was not the abstract interpretation but how to practice the most important of all the laws, which he put into the question: “How am I a neighboor to someone in need?” The lawyer’s question was a more abstract question: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus turns it into a practical question: “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” In other words, the question of Jesus was a smack on the face of the lawyer who is an expert of the law: Who fulfilled the law in this situation? The lawyer could only answer, “The one who treated him with mercy.” It was not the temple priest nor the Levite who were strict guardians of the laws of purity but the outsider–the much maligned Samaritan who was seen as ignorant, and therefore, transgressor of the law, as the one who fulfilled the greatest law: Love God, Love your neighbor as yourself!

Jesus said to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan continues to be retold today. We are the new characters of this parable today. We are the modern day Priest, Levite or Good Samaritan. When someone is in grave need, do we stop whatever we are doing or do we just pass them by? How do we respond to someone in need?  Do we say, “I may get sued.” “Others will come to help.” “I’m in a hurry.” “The poor wretch should have planned for disaster.” “I am scared.”

We have a shortage of neighbor in our world today. We have become not neighbor but condominium dwellers. We live in our own ghettos. This is shown in our difficulty loving others because we do not understand “neighbor” as Jesus did. Neighbor for us means people we like, people who are on our side, who work for a living, and who mind their own business. Jesus redefines neighbor as the hated stranger who is down and out, challenging us to stop what we are doing and care for his need.

Who are the people in most need of Good Samaritans right now? The sick and the dying? The victims of EJK? The homeless? The hungry? The migrants? The trafficked? Whether they be large or small, friend or enemy, rich or poor, we can find them everywhere, calling us out of our comfort zone, making ourselves vulnerable in order to be present to someone different, desperate and diffident.

The law is not mysterious and remote to us. It is not up in the sky, nor across the sea. No, it is something very near to us. It is in whatever situation when we become neighbor to someone who is in need.

 

Remembering Fr. Rudy Romano, CSsR

rudy-romano

The main upper hall of the Baclaran Shrine where the church volunteers usually gather for meals, meetings, and fellowship is called Romano Hall.  It is named after Fr. Rudy Romano, a Redemptorist Priest from Samar who was forcibly abducted by armed men on July 11, 1985 in Cebu City.  Fr. Rudy has remained missing up to this day.  Tomorrow, July 11, 2019, marks the 34th year of his disappearance.

Another tribute for Fr. Rudy and his fellow desaparecidos in the shrine is a monument called Bantayog ng Desaparecido (Memorial for the Disappeared). It is located at a corner of the shrine lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard. The Bantayog is a remembrance of all the missing persons under the brutal regime of Marcos. It lists the names of Fr. Rudy and hundreds of other missing people etched in granite panels. Unveiled in September 2004, the memorial is the refurbished “Flame of Courage Monument,” designed and created by sculptor Lito Mondejar. It features a mother carrying a torch, which symbolizes the courage of those left behind and continuing the struggle for justice. For families and friends of the disappeared, the Bantayog stands as a common ground for remembrance. The families come here every year in November 1 because they have no tomb to visit on All Souls’ Day.

35

Fr. Rudy remains missing to this day, presumed to be dead. But for all of us who continue to struggle for a just and peaceful society, his spirit remains alive and strong. Fr. Rudy remains alive and present in our tireless effort and sacrifice for the defense of the poor and human rights.

Let us not allow Fr. Rudy to become missing again. Especially in these dark times–the horrible violation of  human rights and rampant killings in the name of drug war, let us not cow in fear and become indifferent to the terrible reality that has befallen our country.  May the sacrifice of Fr. Rudy, the thousands of desaparecidos and those who were killed for justice and peace, continue to inspire and strengthen our commitment towards the building of a society that truly reflects the values of God’s kingdom–love, peace and harmony for all.

14TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: CALLED AND SENT FOR GOD’S MISSION

public-domain-images-free-stock-photos-shoes-walking-feet-grey-gravel-

In more recent years, the Baclaran shrine has emphasized the integration and coherence of devotion and mission. This is encapsulated in what we call debo(mi)syon—a concatenation of two words: debosyon (devotion) and misyon (mission) which conveys the oneness of devotion and mission. A statement of commitment by the Redemptorists, lay missionaries, staff and volunteers of the shrine articulates this:

We the Redemptorists, lay missionaries, staff and volunteers of the National Shrine of OMPH promise to make our Mother Mary known by being a help to our fellowmen/women especially to the needy as a an expression of the living of devotion and mission for Jesus Christ.

In the spirit of debo(mi)syon, the shrine tried to enlighten the devotees that devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is not an end in itself; devotion does not stop within the walls of the shrine. Devotion is essentially connected to their daily life’s struggles and aspirations. Devotion constantly flows into the mundane and banal reality of their daily life. Devotion can be a force for transformation within themselves and society, in this case, devotion becomes mission.

In last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus was recruiting people along the way on his journey with his disciples to Jerusalem. He used tough language (“Let the dead bury their dead,” etc.) in calling would-be followers. In today’s gospel of the 14th Sunday in ordinary time, he is giving army-like instructions to  seventy-two disciples on how they should act when they journey to the towns

Where did this seventy two come from? (Only Luke gives the account of the sending of  of seventy or seventy-two. The other synoptic evangelists Mark and Matthew only mention the sending of the twelve.) Perhaps, Jesus’ relentless recruitment blitz along the road has apparently bore fruit. Despite his tough language, many were attracted to his message and followed him. And now he has an army of followers.

A significant lesson here is the fact that these people were just called by Jesus but now are being sent by Jesus. They are supposed to be training, learning and studying still under their master, but Jesus sent them already. Jesus knew that they still has got plenty to learn. But isn’t experience and action the best way to learn?

Being a disciple is also being an apostle. For Jesus he sees no dichotomy among those he called between their being called and being sent. They are called and sent both and at the same time. This is true also for all of us Christians, we are a disciple and apostle at the same time. While learning to be a disciple is a lifetime process, being an apostle is a daily challenge.

This is very important because many of us think and behave like they are just being called but not sent. They see their faith and spirituality as being called to have a personal relationship with Jesus, to be close to Jesus. So prayer, devotions and receiving the sacraments is enough for them. They overlook the fact that having a personal relationship with Jesus also entails living out his mission, going out into the world and participating in the building of the Kingdom of God. By understanding faith merely as called to have a personal relationship with Jesus, they neglect one of the most essential dimension of the life of Jesus and our faith–mission.

The importance of mission is reiterated by Jesus in his intro to his calling of the seventy-two:

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”

Imagining the mission as a harvest reminds us that mission is initiated by God, not simply a human project. It is not the disciples (and therefore not the Church) that initiate the mission. In spreading the Good News, we participate in something God is doing.

One of the most significant realization in theology during the last century was the notion of Missio Dei (Mission of God). Mission is, first and foremost, the work of God. God is the source, means and end of missions. As George Vicedom argued, “Missio Dei means first of all … is God’s work. He is the Lord, the commissioner, the owner, the one who accomplishes the task.  He is the acting subject of mission.  If we attribute mission to God in this way, it is withdrawn from every human whim.”

Jesus sent them to travel from one city to another, by foot, without money or other provisions. It’s a little bit funny that am reminded of all the heavy stuff we take when we go on a mission to a remote barrio.

Go on your way;
behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals;
and greet no one along the way, etc.

No one in their right mind would travel the Palestinian roads staffless, bagless, and unshod. Without a staff you are defenseless. Without a bag of some kind, you have no way of carrying a change of clothes or some bread for the road. And no matter how tough your feet are, you can’t run from danger on that rocky terrain without something on your feet. The point Jesus is trying to drive at is that we should be people who trust in God for our defense and who depend on the hospitality of others for our sustenance, and most importantaly, nothing whatsoever should divert our focus on God’s mission.

This is also a challenge Jesus gives to us today. It is perhaps even harder as a challenge for us today than for the disciples in the time of Jesus. Because society today presents too many attractions and unwanteed needs, Jesus admonition to “travel light” is extra tough. But there is great wisdom in Jesus’ instruction that we need to hearken: We should live a little more trustingly in God’s divine providence than the culture around us. We should exhibit a higher sense of purpose that clearly goes beyond producing and consuming goods and getting entertained.

Jesus, however, doesn’t leave the disciples completely helpless. He gives them power. Sometimes it was not effective (Lk 9:40), but in today’s story it seems to have been very effective. They can cure sicknesses and cast out devils. The seventy-two come back rejoicing in their power: “Lord, in your name, even the demons submit to us!” (Lk 10:17).

Jesus saw in this, the temptation for the disciples to seek power rather than the grace of God. Jesus rebukes them for it. Don’t rejoice in your power, he tells them; rejoice rather in the fact that you will be united to God in heaven.

Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,
but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

There is an even more significant joy for the missionary: prior to their mission, they had been admitted to the privilege of partaking in the fullness of salvation in the end. When they forget that, they are tempted to think that the mission is their own cause and that the success is their own achievement.

 

 

13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: A HIGHER CALLING

adventure-clouds-dawn-906531
Photo by Mathew Thomas from Pexels

Life is a calling. We are not just born in this world to exist but to live with a purpose, a mission, a calling. There is a word–vocation–which is usually associated with religious vocation but can be applied to all. Vocation comes from the Latin word, vocare, to call. Everybody has a vocation.

Vocation is not only an ambition or a career that we want to pursue in the future. Vocation is a higher calling than ambition or a career. We have seen this in the lives of great people, saints and heroes. They learned to get out of their ordinary lives in response to a higher and more noble cause, a greater good other than their own personal agenda. The source of the call is either God, or country, or justice or a morally right cause which led them to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

The readings for today’s 13th Sunday in ordinary time are stories of God’s calling certain individuals to go beyond their ordinary existence.

In the First Reading, Elisha is called by the Lord to be the helper and successor of the prophet Elijah. Elisha, however, wanted to kiss his mother and father goodbye first. The prophet Elijah challenged Elisha’s playing for time. In response, Elisha kills all his family’s oxen; then he uses their yokes for firewood to roast the oxen, and he gives the flesh to his servants to eat. Elisha made sure that he can’t go home now. How could he, after what he did to the family oxen and their yokes?

In the Gospel, Jesus called many people along the way to follow him but challenged them to transcend their ordinary plans and ambitions:

To another he said, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead.
But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
And another said, “I will follow you, Lord,
but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”
To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Answering God’s call is in no way contrary to developing our talents and pursuing our creative path. But the highest fulfillment of our gifts and talents is not for ourselves but  for the love of God, our neighbor and ourselves. In other words, if we wish to fulfill our vocation as Christians we must all become selfless servants and lovers. Whenever we are inclined to seek for ourselves wealth, prestige, popularity, and position, it is no longer about vocation but ambition and power.

It is a sad reality that for many of our young people in our country today, the main aspiration is getting out of the vicious cycle of poverty. Many young people, especially in a third world country like the Philippines, dream of freeing their family from the shackles of poverty even if this would mean taking a path that is not what they truly want and aspire. Thus, many in their present work or profession are not happy or something inside of them is saying that this is not the way they would wish to become someday but they have no choice because they need to survive. The economic plight has stifled their creativity and worst of all the very nature of what they want to become.

Another big factor that may inhibit us from pursuing a higher calling is the postmodern culture. Postmodernism has created a “me” society where the interests of the individual takes precedence over the interests of the country or social group or religion. The autonomous individual becomes the measure of all things. The focus is on oneself, one’s own personal development, apart from one’s community and society.

In a world which apparently has no one to follow, it has become tougher to offer a way of life anchored on following Christ. In this age where traditional sources of meaning are being questioned by today’s generation, the very purpose of vocation has become harder to live out and has stirred some inner confusion and emptiness.

These threat and challenges should not, however, deter us from discovering our deepest calling, pursuing our noblest aspirations and achieving our fullest human maturity. The material, commercial and individualist milieu does not invalidate nor diminish the integrity of vocation as living life to the fullest in a life of service and sacrifice.

In a globalized world, the biggest challenge is to continue to proclaim the liberating Gospel which gives us a meaningful way to set people free from the slavery to money, power and fame. In a highly individualized world, the biggest challenge is to continue to proclaim that only in Jesus Christ can we be true individuals, fully human and fully alive. Living out the true meaning of vocation is not to fulfill our calling in isolation but in communion with others and with God.

The First Intervention of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Philippines

1st Comm Opon 1907
First Redemptorist Community at Opon, 1907

On June 30, 1906, the first Redemptorist community in the Philippines arrived in Opon (now presently Lapu-lapu City), in the island of Cebu. Those appointed to the Foundation were Fr Leo (at the time Rector of Ballarat, Australia) as Superior, Creagh, O’Sullivan, O’Callaghan, Casin, and Bros. Casimir and Eunan (shown in the picture above).

The settling down in the parish did not go as smooth as the Redemptorists had hoped for. The first community found the parish Priest, Fr. Roa and his 12 houseboys still in possession of the convento. The Bishop of Cebu, Thomas Hendrik, did not make matters clear to Fr. Roa, so that when the Parish Priest finally left, some local lay leaders objected that the parish was being taken over by foreigners and had driven out the Parish Priest.

Indeed, the negative experiences from the Spanish friars were still fresh in the memory of the natives that the local people gave the pioneer Redemptorist from Ireland and Australia a very cold treatment.  Someone even organized a boycott against them and soon even the services in the church were boycotted. The convento had been a meeting place for the President of the Municipio (a classmate of Fr. Roa) and his cronies. The parish was a good one and the annual Fiesta was big business. The Municipio had a stake in this. Because of all of these, the pioneer Redemptorists were too disheartened to initiate anything in the parish.

Added to these woes was the fact that the new Community fresh from the cool air of Ireland found themselves crowded into two rooms and sleeping on the floor.  Their reactions to all this differed. Fr. Leo blamed Fr. Boylan for everything. Fr. Boylan was the Irish Provincial who arrived first in the Philippines to prepare for the establishment of the Foundation. He  joined the incumbent Parish Priest, Fr Roa, in residence in Opon on March 17, 1906. Despite all the pressures, Boylan took them well, putting on frequent celebrations for the community and appealing to holy hope.

Not all people, however, were inimical to the Redemptorists. The wife of the President of the Municipio defied the boycott from the beginning. Three sisters from a nearby barrio smuggled in food supplies, and another convinced her husband, who piloted a launch, to bring in supplies from Cebu. Also some of the priests were very supportive from the day of their arrival, especially the parish Priest of Mandawe Fr. Emiliano Mercado and Fr. Gregorio Reynes who was assigned as curate and language teacher. Filipino Hospitality won out in the end and after six months we read in the chronicles, the people are very friendly towards us.

But the most significant change was about to happen on July 24, 1906.  Fr. Patrick Leo, the superior of the community, erected the icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH) in the tribune looking into the Church. We read in the Chronicles of the time: “It is remarkable that on this day the people became notably more friendly towards us.”

Redemptorist historian Fr. Michael Bailey describes this providential event as perhaps the very first intervention of OMPH in the mission of the Redemptorists in the Philippines.[1]

We could just imagine the reaction of the people the first time they saw the picture of OMPH. It was not one of the usual Marian images that the locals were used to. Although they have painted images of the Virgin with Child, this seemed strange for them, as it did not portray the innocence of the Child Jesus like the one cradled by their own Virgen dela Regla.[2] They could have given the strange icon a cold treatment, in the same way that they treated the missionaries who brought them, but they gladly welcomed and embraced the icon in their parish.

With the people’s much needed approval through the maternal intervention of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Opon, the Redemptorists now had the peace of mind to promote devotion to OMPH. The first novena to OMPH in Opon was celebrated on March 17, 1907. The Redemptorists also brought the icon when they began to give missions to the barrios. This is in keeping with the Redemptorist tradition of bringing the icon wherever Redemptorists gave missions. In one of these missions, Bailey recounts the very significant event of the barrio mission that Redemptorists conducted in Compostela, Cebu in 1907 which showed Mary’s already special place in the early mission of the Redemptorists in the Philippines:

The most significant thing about this “missionette” was that the picture of OMPH was placed over the altar, and presided, as it were, over the work. So began the patronage of the Redemptorist apostolate in the Philippines by OMPH that was to bear much fruit in missions and retreats, and later, in the devotion of the Perpetual Novena.[3]

mission-omph

 


 

[1] Michael Baily, C.Ss.R., Small Net in a Big Sea, The Redemptorists in the Philippines, 1905-1929 (Cebu: San Carlos Publications), 19.

[2] Trizer Dale Mansueto, “Make her Known,” How the Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help Flourished in the Philippines, Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon and the Philippines: Multidisciplinary Perspectives to a Perpetual Help Spirituality (Manila: Institute for Spirituality in Asia, 2017), 36.

[3] Baily, Small Net in a Big Sea, 20.