15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE PRODIGAL SOWER

sower

Jesus taught mainly through parables. Parables are stories or analogies drawn from everyday life. The parable of the sower is one of the greatest parables of Jesus.

From a farmer’s point of view, however, there is something wrong with the parable of the sower. Not that I am a farmer but I’ve seen many times, especially during my exposure to farmers during my seminary days, how a farmer would meticulously prepare the field before sowing the seeds. He would plow and rake through the soil to remove the grass and stones until it becomes clean and clear so that all the seeds will fall on good soil. Once these are done, there is no way a seed could fall on thorny soil, rocky soil, not to mention, a pathway, as told in the parable by Jesus. From all indications, the sower in the parable is not our typical farmer; he is either a foolish or wasteful farmer. In Tagalog, we call this kind of farmer, “waldas na magsasaka”.

What could explain for the different types of soil where the seeds fell? It’s either that agriculture was so crude during Jesus’ time or this is deliberate on the part of Jesus. I think the latter is more appropriate as Jesus wanted to emphasize the utter generosity, even to the point of extravagance, of the sower.  After all, the very purpose of the parables is to show a God who is utterly benevolent.  God’s benevolence overturns our greed stricken world, forces us to re-examine our mindset and offers us a fresh perspective in life.

The parable has strong links with today’s First Reading from Isaiah. God’s word is compared to rain and snow falling on the earth and not returning until it has made the soil “fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats”. “So,” says the Lord in Isaiah, “my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” We all know now that the Word of God is Jesus. The abundant goodwill of Jesus the Word of God will bear fruit no matter what and will serve the purpose of his coming—the plentiful redemption of God’s creation.

The extravagance of the sower is highlighted by the fact that the sower never discriminate in his act of sowing. Whether the soil was pathway soil, rocky soil, thorny soil, or good soil, the sower generously sowed his seed equally on all types of soil. Jesus himself explained that these different types of soil symbolizes the different dispositions which hearers receive the word of God. Jesus elaborates,

“The seed sown on the path is the one
who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,
and the evil one comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

The question we always ask ourselves in this parable is “What kind of soil am I?” Honestly, I think I have been all the four types of soil. There were times in my life that I was the rocky soil during those times when some tribulation made me to fall away from the word. At other times I was the thorny soil when  worldly anxiety and the lure of worldly honor and comfort choke the word in me and I became unproductive. Sometimes I was the pathway soil when I heard the word of the kingdom without understanding it. These weaknesses and failures, however, have taught me to become the good soil. Sometimes it can be said that the different types of soil represents stages in a process of our truly becoming the good soil.

The good news is despite all our shortcomings and infidelity, God will continue to sow generously his  word upon us. He will not give up sowing his seeds on each one of us. This is clearly a message of hope for all of us which may at times be discouraged by our and of our fellow believer’s failures and limitations.

Having experienced God’s generous lavish sowing upon ourselves, we now are also called to be prodigal sowers of the abundant love of the word of God. This is doubly challenging given today’s inhospitable environment.  We are not to keep the word of God, however, in our own privatized religion. We are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus to our brothers and sisters.

May we all continue to become the good soil hearing and making the word of God fruitful in our lives. At the same time, may we share in the generous sowing of the word of God by the prodigal sower even to those who fail and refuse to hear it.

14TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: RESTING IN JESUS

Ron-resting

For many of us, our idea of rest and recreation is taking few days off from work, chilling out, having fun, hanging out and enjoying the company of friends and family.  It can also involve longer days for holidays going to other places or enjoying nature, swimming in the sea, lake or rivers or hiking into mountains and forests. After a well spent rest, we feel rejuvenated and refreshed, become more inspired and ready to once again face and continue our work and projects.

That is why rest and recreation are essentially connected. A truly good rest results in a recreation. After a good rest, we become a new creation. A good rest helps us to review our lives in order that we may know where we are going to next. Thus, rest can sometimes result in a new idea, an inspiration that can bring life-changing event, a new lifestyle. It may also call for going back, a return to our roots, a return to nature.  In other words, rest is being attentive to our body, emotions and soul.

What is the most profound thing that your body and soul is telling you now?

Unfortunately, many people in our country today are deprived of this idea of rest. Many people has to work even up to Sundays to just barely get by.  Because of the lack of local work opportunities, many parents go overseas to work leaving behind their children. This distorts the experience of rest as how can one enjoy the company of family when one’s parents are not here. The urban environment generates lots of  situation which affect the quality of rest – air pollution, traffic and noise, let alone, the chaos, trash and hustle and bustle of city life. Technology has also made it harder for genuine rest. As we get wrapped up more and more in mobile phones, texting, email, Facebook, and the internet, we are constantly distracted by texts, emails, phone messages which rob us of the simple capacity to stop, shut off the machines, and rest.

Perhaps, this is the reason why for many people the idea of rest is just to escape from the daily humdrum, pains and problems of our daily life like drinking with friends all day Sunday. We “thank God it’s Friday” so we can go out ‘gimmicking’—partying and bar hopping until early Saturday morning.  Many times, this kind of rest leave us more tired than before, not to mention, the hangover. No wonder, the rest we do sometimes makes us feel more tired that after our ‘rest’ we want to take a rest again.

If rest is essential to our well-being, restlessness is a constant itch of our human existence.  We are essentially restless, even if we have taken a good rest. In Tagalog, we call this existential restless itch, “Hindi mapakali”. We long for a more profound and complete rest.  Restlessness is not just physical and emotional but also spiritual. It involves our soul. All throughout our lives we look for that thing that will ultimately give us true rest.

As Christians we believe that we cannot truly rest until we can rest in Jesus and learn from him about the fundamental meaning of life. As St. Augustine said in his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[1]

In the Gospel today, Jesus comforts us:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

And how can we have rest in Jesus, Jesus tells us:

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Wait a minute, I thought Jesus will give us rest but why is he giving us his yoke? Is it not that yoke and rest are contradiction in terms?

Jesus’ yoke is to learn from him for as he says, “I am gentle and humble of heart.” Jesus’ yoke is the yoke of humility and service. It praises God for contradicting the wisdom of the world: “for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest children.”

Jesus also challenges us that perhaps we should learn from the meek and humble, the little people, the sick and dying, the poor and hungry. For it is among them that we find Jesus and learn to become humble and meek of heart.

Jesus wants to address a more profound and fundamental rest—the ultimate rest. Most of our rest only involves pleasure and enjoyment. Rest without wholeness of being and spiritual rest is not enough. True rest involves rest for the soul.  Jesus’ rest gives us rest for our souls but it does not exclude the element of joy. As Pope Francis has said, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”[2]


[1] Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5

[2] Evangelii Gaudium, 1.

13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: CHRISTIANITY AS DISCIPLESHIP

 Christianity is much more than religion. It is a discipleship, an apprenticeship if you like–an apprenticeship with Jesus. What kind of apprenticeship does Jesus leads us to?

In the Gospel Reading today, Jesus said to his apostles:

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

This is shocking! Jesus is asking us to leave behind the greatest resource of our lives—our family—in order to follow him. Not just our family, Jesus asks us to lose our own lives so we can gain our lives in him. And what kind of life is he offering—the way of the cross. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans in the second reading calls this life, baptism into Christ’s death.

This is too much for us to accept, let alone, understand. No wonder, many of us have turned to religion. Christianity as a religion is easier to understand and to practice: Going to mass, receiving the sacraments, following the 10 commandments, and many other religious things. It also became a lot easier for the church to preach about religious matters like observing correct rubrics and moral issues like contraception, abortion, etc.

Jesus certainly did talk about religion. But he did so to challenge and critique the religious ways of his time which have actually alienated human beings from God and one another. Jesus instead talked more about God and how God’s kingdom is breaking out into the world.

To enter into God’s kingdom, Jesus called us to join a new family, a family beyond blood, race, culture, gender and yes, even religion. When we are members of this family, God is our Father and we are all brothers and sisters with Jesus our older brother. To enter into God’s kingdom, Jesus ushered us into an apprenticeship that not only taught us new values, ways of doing and living but sought the purpose of why we live. It is an apprenticeship fulfilling the meaning of life. In seeking the purpose of life, however, Jesus proposes an apprenticeship that goes against the popular routes that the world gives. Jesus’ apprenticeship is to trek the road less travelled. Unfortunately, it also implies going beyond what many people hold dear about their religion.

For Jesus the most important things are greater than matters of religion. Sometimes we talk more about religious liberty, catechism and the code of canon law than about Jesus’ gospel. It’s time once again to talk about Christ and his gospel values not just about a list of do’s and don’ts, doctrines, commandments, canon law, and obligation. We need to recover Jesus’ way of talking about faith—that faith is a change of thinking (metanoia) in accordance with God’s  ways and thoughts.

This calls us to repropose the message of Jesus in our times today. Our world today is hostile and cold to the Christian message especially in secularized countries. This is worsened by the scandals in the church like child abuse and dubious lifestyle of some of the hierarchy. This should not deter us to proclaim the gospel of Jesus. As St. Paul said, “Woe to me, if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). We need to proclaim the gospel in the way Jesus proclaimed it more than 2,000 years ago, bold and daring but also compassionate and hopeful. In word and in deed, we need to proclaim, what Pope Francis has proposed, the joy of the Gospel.

The purpose of the church is more than just calling people to the church to attend mass, liturgy and the sacraments. The church’s main purpose is to support and encourage people in their apprenticeship with Jesus. After all, the church is the members of the one body of Christ following, and many times stumbling, in their journey of apprenticeship with Jesus.

Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: The Meaning of the Title

Icona dopo il restauro senza corone
On this feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, I invite you to reflect on the meaning of the title, Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH).
The title OMPH has profound meaning that can help us develop a meaningful and fruitful devotion to Mother Mary. The title originated in the text itself accompanying the original icon in Rome. The Blessed Virgin herself chose this name to serve as an encouragement to us all to have recourse to her with complete confidence in all our needs.[1]
Let us now reflect on each of the word of the title.

Mother

Mother is written in the icon. MP OY = Meter Theou: Mother of God (in the two upper corners of the icon). OMPH is one of the few titles that call Mary, mother (the only other titles that I am aware of are Mother of God and Mother of Mercy). Other titles are mostly called our Lady of _______________ which is oftentimes connected to a particular place. Thus, other times, OMPH is also called Our Lady of Perpetual Help. While others are called by their local names, OMPH transcends the local. Brazilian Redemptorist Fr. Ulysses da Silva expounds,

It is not a title bound to a location (such as Aparecida, Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje, etc.), nor to a privilege or accolade of Mary (like Assumption, Mystical Rose, etc.), nor to the Passion event, as would be the original characterization of the Icon. It is an invocation that identifies the maternal attitude of Mary in relation to her Son and to all of us. It is a universal title in relation to time as well as space, whenever or wherever someone is found in need or in danger.[2]

Moreover, Our Lady expresses a more Western sentiment. Mother is a more universal title as it appeals to us all, of our universal experience with our own mothers. Along this line, Pope Francis expressed in his homily on the celebration of the first feast of Mary, Mother of the Church on the 21st of May, 2018 in the Vatican, that Mary is not referred to as “the lady” or “the widow of Joseph,” but is rather called “the mother of Jesus.” He further affirmed that Mary’s motherhood is emphasized throughout the Gospels, from the Annunciation to the foot of the cross.[3]

Perpetual

The adjective perpetual (laging) conveys an attitude that is always active rather than passive. Mary is not just waiting for us to call upon the help of God but she is always accompanying and encouraging us to come to Jesus. Likewise, this also emphasizes the perpetual quality of help. This implies that God through the prayers of OMPH is forever helping us in all our predicaments.

The ever active nature of perpetual can also be seen in the context of how we, the devotees, continue the help of God, through the intercession of OMPH, by helping others. We accept that the help we ask and receive is perpetual; it does not stop within ourselves. Having freely received blessings from God, we are inspired to freely help others even as those who have not yet received theirs petitions are encouraged to continue to ask.

Help

Saklolo (help) is almost a desperate cry in distress. This is the plea of many of us who are her devotees: help me, saklolo! Many of us are desperate, we have no one to turn to and thus, any help will do. Mary under the title of Ina ng Laging Saklolo (OMPH) appeals to the very situation that we find ourselves in real life.

The word Help appeals to all of us, as we are all creatures in need. We constantly seek the help of God and of one another through prayer and action. Consequently, the word Help is also a calling for us to respond always to all those who cry for help. Those who have freely received blessings are called to freely help others and those who have not yet received theirs petitions are encouraged to continue to ask. By expressing our devotion and praying the novena to OMPH, we accept that the help we ask and receive is perpetual; it should never stop and disconnect us from others.

The word help also contains a profound theological truth about the role of Mary in God’s mission. Mary is, first and foremost, a helper of God, (katulong ng Diyos). When the angel Gabriel announced to her that she was chosen by God to be the bearer of God’s son, Mary’s response was: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38). Mary saw her profound identity as a helper and follower of God’s mission. Vatican Council II affirms this, “Mary uttered this fiat in faith. In faith she entrusted herself to God without reserve and ‘devoted herself totally as the handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son’ (Lumen Gentium, #56).” Mary’s “yes” of serving as the mother of the Messiah did not end in her death. She became mother and helper to the whole Church in the name of God’s mission.

In this light, the word Help is not just a call to bring our personal needs to God through Mary’s intercession but like Mary to become God’s helpers in God’s mission.

Jesus is the Perpetual Help

Whenever we show the Icon and ask the people: Who is the perpetual help? Most of them immediately answer: Mary is the perpetual help. Most devotees think that the source of help and blessings is Mary. But Mary is the Mother of perpetual help; if Mary then is the mother of God—Jesus, then Jesus is the source of perpetual help.

The perpetual help of OMPH ultimately originates from the perpetual generosity and unconditional love of God. Mary, OMPH, is the greatest epitome of the perpetual generosity and unconditional love of God. So when we look at Mary we can learn to look at our own lives more profoundly in the spirit of the perpetual generosity and unconditional love of God.

Thus, perpetual help can help us to understand the most profound message of the icon. In the context of the whole icon, perpetual help means the perpetual showing by Mary to Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thus, the name, OMPH can also be appropriately called, Our Lady of the Way.

Let us now pray,

O Virgin Mother of Perpetual Help,
I come before your Sacred Icon,
And with childlike confidence,
invoke your aid.

Show yourself a Mother to me now,
And have pity on me.

O Mother of Perpetual Help,
For the love you bear to Jesus,
Help me in this my necessity.

I leave it all to you in the name of the Father.
I leave it all to you in the name of the Son.
I leave it all to you in the name of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Happy fiesta everyone!

Mary-birthday


[1] “Give this message to your mother and to your grandfather: Holy Mary of Perpetual Help requires that you remove her from your house, if not, you will all soon die”. Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 133.

[2] Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., ““Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety,”” #43.

[3] Pope Francis, “The Church, like Mary, is woman and mother,” Vatican News, 21 May 2018. Accessed at https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope-francis/mass-casa-santa-marta/2018-05/pope-francis-mass-santa-marta-mary-church-woman-mother.html

12TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: FEAR OF THE LORD

no-fear

Every day our world is becoming a fear-driven society. Anxiety has become the new normal. As we open the newspapers and watch TV, we read and hear news of the worsening pandemic. We are terrified by news of impending disasters–earthquake, typhoons, flood, climate change. We are afraid of continuous criminality in our neighborhood despite the government’s tough stance. We continue to be anxious of the economy, we are uncertain about the future, we worry about our personal problems.

It’s perfectly normal to be afraid. Fear is a natural and primitive human emotion. Fear alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm, whether that danger is physical or psychological. Sometimes fear stems from real threats, but it can also originate from imagined dangers.

Unfortunately, fear is also a very powerful weapon to cow the people to submission. Fear is after all the main goal of terrorists, dictators and autoritarian leaders who want to remain in power permanently. Autoritarian leaders takes advantage of the uncertainty of the situation combined with the perception of an escalating threat. In this age of existential anxiety, many embrace a cultural worldview that provides an artificial semblance of order and toughness. This is perhaps one of the reasons for the popularity of Duterte and Trump who for many people represents order and stability in a fear-driven world. Unfortunately, we hand over our responsibilty to their authority because of our own failure and laziness to confront our chaotic and messy situation.

There’s also a lot of power and money involved in perpetuating the fears of ordinary citizens. For mass media, insurance companies, Big Pharma, advocacy groups, lawyers, politicians and so many more, fear can be worth billions. And fortunately for them, our fears are very easy to manipulate.

In the midst of the most fearmongering time in human history, we hear comforting words of Jesus in the gospel today:

“Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.”

In this age of fake news and alternative facts, truth will prevail no matter how much people will try to bury it. In this fear-driven and manipulative society, Jesus calls us to continue his mission of truth, justice and love. Like the disciples we are sent out on mission. We are to proclaim in the marketplace or from the “housetops” the gospel.

“What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”

We can expect rejection and humiliation but these should not deter us from our mission. We are not to give up the struggle or capitulate in the face of persecution. If Jesus and the Holy Spirit is with us, Jesus’ mission will prevail in spite of our weaknesses. They may kill our bodies but they cannot kill our spirit and soul.

“And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body.”

This kind of fear that Jesus tells us to practice more, is the fear of the Lord. This type of fear does not necessarily mean to be afraid of something. Rather, it is a reverential awe of God, a reverence for His power and glory. However, it is also a proper respect for His wrath and anger. In other words, the fear of the Lord is a total acknowledgement of all that God is, which comes through knowing Him and His attributes.

Fear of the Lord brings with it many blessings and benefits. It is the beginning of wisdom and leads to good understanding (Psalm 111:10). Only fools despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7). Furthermore, fear of the Lord leads to life, rest, peace, and contentment (Proverbs 19:23). It is the fountain and life (Proverbs 14:27) and provides a security and a place of safety for us (Proverbs 14:26). It is this fear that leads us to acknowledge the power of God just as Jeremiah proclaimed in the first reading today:

Sing to the LORD,
praise the LORD,
for he has rescued the life of the poor
from the power of the wicked!”

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

mission_catanduanes

Whenever we go on mission to remote barrios in the Philippines, we often joke that as soon as we enter the area, the chickens, ducks and other livestock animals run for their lives as if they knew they would be sacrificed at the table of the missionaries. Somebody asked, if do we not feel guilty that so many chickens are slaughtered whenever there is a mission in the barrio. We respond philosophically in jest that, at least they died of a higher cause—for the mission! (Go tell that to animal lovers and vegetarians).

There is, however, more than meets the eye in this anecdote. It highlights a profound reality of our lives, that 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 feed 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. Our Catholic Church teaches that in the Eucharist, the communion wafer and the altar wine are transformed and really become the body and blood of Jesus Christ which in technical jargon is called transubstantiation. But there is a much more important happening in the Eucharist than transubstantiation. Instead on dwelling on transubstantiation, therefore, we will focus on how the Eucharist affects our lives. What is in the Eucharist that is for us?

What transpires in the Eucharist is 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.

SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY: GOD IS LOVE

trinity-rublev-1410
Iconn of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev

We celebrate today the most significant feast of our God and central core of our faith–we believe in One God, three persons. However, this belief is also the most misunderstood and bewildering belief of our Christian faith. In our effort to explain the Trinity in simple language, how many times have we used abstract concepts and devise mind boggling framework to explain the trinity?

The main problem, I think, why we do not get the Trinity is that we try to see, understand and talk about God as trinity according to our human categories and language. No human language or categories can ever fully talk about God. God cannot be colonized by any human faculty. We cannot make God in our own image (reverse creation). We cannot, for example, understand the Trinity as three persons if we use our own understanding of persons as an individual centre of consciousness and freedom. The persons in God is not an autonomous self but a relational self.

The simplest language, therefore, that we can talk about the trinity is the language of love. This is what our gospel today tells us.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

God, three persons in one, is love. Before God loved us, God is already love. God has already embodied and lived love. Love in God is demonstrated by the fact that 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:

“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.

In other words, God is a relationship, God is a community, and 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 a noun but a verb. God is not static but dynamic.

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]

Our relational God designed us in His own image. Therefore, to be a person is to be related. To be a person is to love. 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 even 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]

While the 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.

 


 

[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.

PENTECOST SUNDAY: CELEBRATING PENTECOST IN THE TIME OF PANDEMIC

 

The world continues to reel from the negative impact of the covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic jolted and disrupted our “normal” life and caused unprecedented distress and hardships.

In the midst of the pandemic, we celebrate the Pentecost which commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, the Blessed Virgin Mary and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks, as described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1–31). Pentecost also jolted and disrupted the disciples and ushered the beginning of the church. Pentecost transformed the followers of Christ from timid and fearful to bold and daring disciples.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down “like a strong driving wind,” and appeared as “tongues of fire”, and finally rested on each of the disciples. This emboldened the disciples and gave them the gift to speak in every language of all the people gathered at Jerusalem during that day.

The coming of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning of the church. Pentecost is our birthday as a church. This means that the church, as St. Luke has shown in the whole Acts of the Apostles, is a spirit-led church. Actually, the Acts of the Apostles could have been more appropriately called the Acts of the Holy Spirit: It was always the spirit who had the final say where the early church should go, what the church should do. In every major decision, the early church would listen to the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit the church could have fallen apart a long time ago.

Today the Spirit continues to lead us, to guide us. to shake us out of our complacencies, to disturb us out of our passiveness.  But do we listen? Are we like the early church who always sought the direction of the Holy Spirit, who discerned always where the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives and work?

In today’s chaotic world stricken by the covid-19 pandemic, the temptation for us and the church is to freeze in fear and be content solely with our own security and self-preservation. Another temptation is to go back to the old normal after the pandemic is over as if nothing happened and continue to rely on our human capacity and wisdom. These times calls for more solidarity of all people and discernment and reliance on the surprises and creativity of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit re-created the disciples. The Holy Spirit set the disciples on fire. Compare the apostles before and after Pentecost, oh what a difference the Spirit makes. From timid they became bold, from lethargic they became energetic  and from fearful they became courageous – all for the sake of the good news of Jesus.  As Pope Francis has said about the church of Pentecost, “She is a Church that doesn’t hesitate to go out, meet people, proclaim the message that’s been entrusted to her, even if that message disturbs or unsettles the conscience.”[1]

For all the chaos and suffering brought by the pandemic, there is hope. But only if we become bold in transforming our lives and listen to the promptings of the spirit. As Pope Francis reminds us, this contagion of infection with the Coronavirus can lead to a contagion of fear, of isolation, of ‘self-protection’. He calls us to welcome instead the ‘contagion’ of the Holy Spirit – a contagion of prayer and service, of solidarity and welcome.” We need discernment and openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Where is the movement of the spirit in this time of pandemic? How can we listen and discern the promptings of the spirit in this time of pandemic?

Despite the suffering and death caused by the pandemic, God will re-create the world through the Holy Spirit. “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Isaiah 43:18, Isaiah 43:19, Revelation 21:5, Isaiah 65:17, Ephesians 2: 15). As in the first Pentecost, we have in need now more of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In a prayer in preparation for the Second Vatican Council in 1962, Pope John XXIII prayed, “Renew Your wonders, O God, in our day — as in a new Pentecost!”

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.”

 


 

[1] Pope Francis, By the Power of the Spirit the Church Astounds & Confuses,” Angelus, June 8, 2014

THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD: I WILL BE WITH YOU ALWAYS, UNTIL THE END OF TIMES

looking at the sky

 

During these times of unprecedented suffering and death due to the covid-19 pandemic, there is not a single moment that we looked up to the heavens asking for divine help and intervention.

We celebrate tody the ascension of the Lord Sunday. This marks the human Jesus’ last day on earth. Luke describes the moment of the Lord’s ascension in today’s 1st reading from the Acts of the Apostles where Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.”

The ascension is one of the most misinterpreted events in Jesus life and belief of our faith. The ascension has often been portrayed in a somewhat mythological way as a gravity-defying form of levitation or the retreat of Jesus from this world to a place up, up and away.

It is significant that Jesus rested in the cloud in the Ascension. In the bible a cloud often depicts the abiding presence of God amongst the people. In the Old Testament, the pillar of cloud was the glory-cloud which indicated God’s presence leading the ransomed people of Israel out of Egypt through the wilderness (Exodus 13:22; 33:9, 10). This pillar preceded the people as they marched, resting on the ark (Exodus 13:21; 40:36). By night it became a pillar of fire (Numbers 9:17-23). In other words, the Ascension signifies not Jesus’ departure but his constant accompaniment of his disciples and the community gathered in his name—the church—as they face the challenges and troubles of this world.

While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, “Men of Galilee,
why are you standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven
will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

The two angels were trying to say to the apostles that they were not supposed to spend their time staring nostalgically at the heavens as Jesus did not abandon them but is always with them “until the end of the age” (Matthew 28: 20). There was work to do.  There was a world waiting for the good news to be announced. Faith and hope have now to be busy about other matters, even as Christians, then and now, await his return at the end of time and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1: 5, 11). The apostles left the mountain, went into the city, and launched the greatest missionary undertaking in human history.

“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The Ascension is not a call of fuga mundi (escape from the world) but at the same time a calling to journey towards a much larger world where heaven and earth meet. The great commission of the Ascension today is how to announce the good news and build God’s kingdom and heaven of liberation and peace in a world enveloped with terror, division, violence and suffering. Let not our hearts be troubled, for Jesus accompanies and protects us “until the end of the age.”

6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER: THE ABIDING PRESENCE OF CHRIST

christ10
I will not leave you orphans

In today’s pandemic, one of the most ab/used word is social distancing. While “social distancing” is essential to help avoid getting sick and “flatten the curve” in the spread of COVID-19, it may be sending the wrong message and contributing to social isolation. What the pandemic has actually done is not separation and isolation but has heightened the need for support and connection with one another. For example, we siblings, 6 of us, have not physically reunited for a long time, but thanks to the pandemic, we had a long and spirited conversation via zoom just recently. We do not actually want to distance from one another but to build solidarity in this time of unprecendented suffering. Thus, the conversation is shifting from “social distancing” towards “physical distancing.”

One of the best song that expresses this irony is Joey Ayala’s “Walang Hanggang Paalam” (Never Ending Farewell). The haunting and melancholic melody truly expresses the pain and sadness of separation while at the same declares the undying unity between lovers. The lyrics are so beautiful that you would think it was a poem before it was a song. The chorus expresses the intense tension between physical separation and unbreakable emotional and spiritual bond:

Ang pag-ibig natin ay (Our love)
Walang hanggang paalam (is an everlasting farewell)
At habang magkalayo (And while we are far)
Papalapit pa rin ang puso (Our hearts draws near)
Kahit na magkahiwalay (We may be apart)
Tayo ay magkasama (Yet we are together)
Sa magkabilang dulo ng mundo (On the opposite ends of the world)

This song may also remind us of a sad experience about someone whom we truly love has to say goodbye to us. We really want to spend our lives with her/him but it just couldn’t  be. So we try our best to become the best persons that we are, thinking that that person we love is not gone and is not separated from us but always with us. His/her abiding presence has become an inspiration, advocate, comfort, consolation and help.

In the gospel today, Jesus tells his disciple on the night of his departure, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.”  The Risen Lord continues to be present and remains alive manifesting the Father’s love and kindness in the world through us His disciples and friends. He has given us His Spirit to enlighten, empower and encourage us that we may be able to love one another as He has loved us.

The word “Advocate” comes from the Latin “advocatus” which translates the original Greek word “paraklētos”; both words literally mean “one who is called alongside” somebody. An Advocate/Paraclete can mean a spokesman, a mediator, an intercessor, a comforter, a consoler or a helper.  Jesus said the Holy Spirit is “another” Advocate because he is the first Advocate (see 1 Jn 2:1b). The Holy Spirit, as the “second” Advocate, will continue Jesus’ presence among the disciples and His saving action for the of the disciples, e.g., guiding them and nourishing them with His word and defending them against those who will persecute them (see Jn 15:18-27).

Jesus assures us, “I will not leave you orphans.” In Jesus’ time, the orphans were the weakest members of the society. Having lost their parents, particularly their fathers, orphans or the comfortless ones had no means of protection and provision and so were easy targets for exploitation and harm. One of our most basic needs as human beings is the need for comfort, empathy, and presence of our loved ones. This is also what we ask most of God. More than material things, God’s advocacy, consolation and presence, is one of the most frequent petition that we ask of the Lord especially in the lowest moments of our lives. Jesus gives us assurance that God never leaves us orphans. This gives us the greatest hope—the never ending presence, protection and support of God. We are confident even in today’s hostile world because it is the Spirit who gives us the grace and strength to believe. This is the same confidence that St. Peter proclaimed in the second reading: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (I Peter 3: 15).

Jesus may be “physically distant” but he is not “socially distant” from us. Jesus is so far yet so near, absent yet present, because the Holy Spirit is sent for us. God never left us. God remains with us, forever. And we should, therefore, not be distant from one another. We are all united in solidarity in the abiding presence of Christ amongst us.