20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: OUR BAPTISM OF FIRE

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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.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

 

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

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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

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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 SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST: LOOKING AT THE WORLD THROUGH THE EYES OF THE EUCHARIST

eucharist-joey-velasco
Last Supper – A Painting by Joey Velasco

Today, we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi or the solemnity of the most holy Body and Blood of Christ. We believe that in the Eucharist, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

When we look at the Eucharist sometimes we focus too much on the Eucharist as a ritual, an obligation or its theological abstraction such as transubstantiation. But the Eucharist is much more than these. The Eucharist that Jesus established, more importantly, ushers us into a new perspective of the world, a new way of life, a new vision. This solemnity, therefore, challenges us to look at the world through the eyes of the Eucharist.

In the gospel today about the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, the disciples came to Jesus with the request to dismiss the people to go find food after a whole day listening to Jesus’ preaching. But Jesus challenged them with the question: “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

As the day was drawing to a close,
the Twelve approached him and said,
“Dismiss the crowd
so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms
and find lodging and provisions;
for we are in a deserted place here.”
He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.”

Jesus’ summon or question to his disciples more than 2,000 years ago, continues to haunts us today.

There is more than enough food that is grown to feed everyone on this planet. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

More than 60,000 people will die of hunger on this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Two-thirds of them will be children. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

Nearly one in five people worldwide is chronically malnourished—too hungry to lead a productive, active life. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

One-third of the world’s children are significantly underweight for their age. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

The amount of money the world spends on weapons in one minute could feed 2,000 malnourished children for a year. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

The Eucharist is about sharing, service and generosity. It is Jesus who first showed us this. Before Jesus celebrated the first Eucharist, Jesus lived first its meaning and implication by washing the disciples’ feet.  Jesus intended the Eucharist to be a memorial of his sacrifice and selfless service for all people especially the least and the last in this world. Jesus meant the Eucharist to be a celebration of God’s fervent wish that all should be well fed just like what happened on that plain when Jesus multiplied the bread and fishes. The Eucharist, a great gift from the same God that sent the manna in the desert, should strengthen the determination of both the hungry and the satisfied to do what it takes to eliminate hunger, poverty, despair, homelessness and brokenness.

Pope Francis, commenting on this same gospel passage, highlighted the radical demand of the Eucharist as placing our whole lives and resources, how little or small they are, to feed the hungry and those who have lesser in life.

In the face of the crowd’s needs, this is the disciples’ solution: everyone takes care of himself; dismiss the crowd. Many times we Christians have that same temptation; we don’t take on the needs of others, but dismiss them with a compassionate “May God help you” or a not-so-compassionate “Good luck.” …

What Jesus encouraged the disciples to do was an act of “solidarity”… placing at God’s disposal what little we have, our humble abilities, because only in sharing and giving will our lives be fruitful. …

At the same time, in receiving the Eucharist faithfully the Lord leads us to follow his path —that of service, sharing and giving; the little that we have, the little that we are, if shared, becomes a treasure because the power of God, who is love, descends to our poverty and transforms it.

Corpus Christi Homily, May 31, 2013

This solemnity is more than just understanding the meaning of the Eucharist and taking seriously the obligation to go to mass every Sunday. The Eucharist is not just a ritual, a celebration, or an obligation. As often as we receive the body and blood of Jesus, the Eucharist transforms our human hearts and minds into the heart and mind of Jesus, a Eucharistic heart and mind. To have the mind and heart of the Eucharist of Jesus is to imbibe solidarity; solidarity especially with the hungry, thirsty, homeless, those who are disadvantaged and the least who benefits from the fruits of the earth.

If only we did not just attend the Eucharist on Sunday but practice the demands of the Eucharist every day, if only we didn’t just celebrate the Eucharist within the walls of churches and cathedrals and went out of our churches to live out its meaning in the streets, the slums, the farms and the market, if only the Eucharist has permeated the mindset of kings and rulers of nations in governing their people then our world today would have been a much happier, fruitful and beautiful world where much lesser people are hungry, thirsty, homeless and desperate. There is lesser war and oppression, more time in multiplying the fruits of the earth for the benefit of all.

We cannot 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. 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. We become love—self-sacrificing persons.

The Eucharist ushers us into a radical mindset and a whole new way of life. It is entering 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. It is a powerful celebration which can transform us if we allow it to rend our hearts.

The Eucharist is not a static and mechanical ritual that is unaffected and insignificant in the midst of so many pain, evil and suffering in our world.  As the priest says at the end of the Eucharist: “Go in peace and proclaim the good news of our Lord,” the Eucharist is a mission; it is sending us into the world to transform the world according to the image of the Eucharist. A world in the image of the Eucharist is a world where there is overflowing generosity and service among all peoples following Jesus’ mandatus to love and serve one another.

 

TRINITY SUNDAY: GOD IS NOT A SELF BUT A RELATION

By Andrei Rublev - From https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54421

It’s Trinity Sunday. This is the most significant feast of our God: One God, three persons. This is the very core and most important mystery of our faith. However, it’s a dreaded day for Catholic preachers who is faced with the daunting task of preaching about the Trinity. Because of its utmost profundity, many preachers utilize analogies in an effort to explain in simple language the Trinity. Sometimes preachers use abstract concepts and devise mind boggling framework to explain the trinity. Despite all these attempts, at the end of the preaching and the celebrations, preachers and the congregation in the pews, more often than not, are left more bewildered that they do not want to talk and hear anything about the Trinity.

Sadly, this has become the trend in recent years. In recent years, there has been less talk about God as Trinity. Indeed, God as Trinity has suffered from an overly abstract appropriation, excessive humanism and rationalism. As American feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson comments, “[Trinity] has been neglected, literalized, treated like a curiosity, or analysed with conceptual acrobatics entirely inappropriate to its meaning.  Consequently, the doctrine has become unintelligible and religiously irrelevant on a wide scale.”[1] The German philosopher Immanuel Kant even came to the conclusion that “absolutely nothing worthwhile for the practical life can be made out of the doctrine of the Trinity taken literally.”[2]

But on Trinity Sunday, of all Sundays, we should not get discouraged nor run away from talking and proclaiming God as Trinity. Because the Trinity as the very core of our faith is also about the meaning of our lives, about who we truly are and our mission in this world.

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

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

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

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. [3]

Our relational God designed us in His own image. Therefore, to be a person is to be related. We are not merely individuals, but persons in community. We were created in the imago Dei to be in relation. As American feminist theologian Catherine LaCugna affirms, we are “meant to exist as persons in communion … not persons in isolation or withdrawal or self- centredness.”[4]  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.” [5]

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. [6]

The whole focus of Trinity Sunday really is not what the Trinity is but how God the Trinity lived.  The whole focus of Trinity Sunday is how we experience and participate in the circle of love of the Trinity. The whole focus of Trinity Sunday really is not whether or not to understand the Trinity but how to live and follow the example of God the Trinity. As the Nike ad declares, “just do it!”

 


 

[1] Elizabeth Johnson, “Trinity: To Let the Symbol Sing Again,” Theology Today 34, no. 3 (1997), 299.

[2] Immanuel Kant, Der Streit der Fakultäten, A 50, 57, quoted in Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: S.C.M. Press, 1981), p. 6.

[3] 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.

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

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

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