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

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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.

 

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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.

6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER: THE HOLY SPIRIT, GIFT OF THE RISEN CHRIST

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

One of the hardest yet rewarding experiences in our lives is having to say goodbye to somebody we love or bidding farewell to a beautiful experience we have become used to. We experience this in the departure of somebody we deeply love whether he/she is going away for a long time or for good. We experience this on our first day at school when we need to say goodbye to the experience of merely playing and staying at home with our folks. We experience this after graduation in High School, when we have to separate ways with our classmates. We experience this when somebody very close to our heart is dying and trying to console and letting him/her go.

Painful as they may be, yet these experiences has helped us to grow and become stronger. Much as we wanted to spend longer time with our loved ones, it just couldn’t be. So we try our best to become the best persons that we are, thinking that they whom we love are not gone and are not separated from us but always with us. Their abiding presence has become an inspiration, advocate, comfort, consolation and help.

In today’s gospel of the 6th Sunday of Easter, Jesus was bidding goodbye to his disciples. Imagine the emotional turmoil inside the disciples; in a short while they will no longer see the face of their master. Perhaps the disciples were asking: What are we going to do without Jesus? Who’s gonna guide us now? Can we continue the mission of Jesus all alone by ourselves?

In this state of emotional distress, Jesus assured them that they are not alone; he will not abandon them and that he will always be with them. How can this be? He and his Father will send them the Holy Spirit.

We remember that in John’s Gospel, the risen Christ conveys the gift of the Spirit to his disciples on Easter Sunday evening. The Spirit is, as in Paul’s letters, the gift of the risen Christ. In the gift of the Spirit, the risen Christ and the Father come and make their home with the disciples. The Spirit will be the continued presence of Jesus on earth after Jesus’ departure to heaven (Jn 14:12, 16). Jesus said,

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.

When the disciples receive and allow the Holy Spirit to make home into their lives, the Spirit will not convey new revelations, but will unfold in ever new understanding, interpretation, and application the once-for-all revelation of Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s work will more than reminisce the exact words of Jesus; it will be a living representation of all that Jesus had spoken to his disciples, a creative remembrance of the gospel.

This ongoing work of the Spirit will give the disciples peace and takes away their fear, because the Spirit is always there as their helper who stands by them especially during the challenging times of persecution and martyrdom.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

The First Reading shows us an example of the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of the presence of the Holy Spirit as an Advocate who will teach and remind the community after his departure. This passage is sometimes called the “Council of Jerusalem,” the first council of the church which dealt with the first major crisis of the early Church. In this passage we see how the early church was led by the Holy Spirit in decision-making.

Luke reports that some Judean people came to the Christians at Antioch to tell them that the gentile converts could not be saved unless they were circumcised. The Judaeans were worried that the traditional practices were being altered by the church at Antioch, and they were exercising themselves in behalf of the tradition.

The elders of the church acknowledge that they face a problem for which no extant policy offers a clear solution; so they decided to deal with this as a community by calling a meeting of the leadership (“apostles and presbyters”). They carefully looked back into their experience. Peter rehearses his experience of being drawn into the Gentile mission through the remarkable conversion of Cornelius and his household. Then Paul and Barnabas describe “the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them” (Acts 15:12).

The assembly then interprets their experience of God working through them by looking to the longer experience of the community embodied in its Scriptures. This is exemplified by James’ citing a passage from the prophet Amos (Amos 9:11-12; the Greek version), which implies two stages in God’s plan for Israel: (1) the restoration of the people of Israel (“rebuild the fallen hut of David”) and (2) the ingathering of the Gentiles (“so that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord, even all the Gentiles”).

The conclusion that the Jerusalem council reached was that the mission to the Gentiles is the will of God, and that they ought to do all in their power to cooperate with this divine initiative. The apostles rebuke the Judaeans by telling them what the decision of the Holy Spirit is: circumcision is not required for salvation. The decision about what is required for salvation is the Lord’s.  Thus, the Judaeans were actually opposed to the mind of the Lord. Likewise, they decided on a policy that both honors the tradition and adjusts to changing circumstances; they asked of Gentile converts only that they keep the minimal “rules for resident aliens” indicated in Leviticus (regarding marriages to relatives, food associated with idolatry, and improper slaughtering).

Finally, they boldly spoke of this very human process (reflection on experience and interpretation in the light of tradition) as “the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us.”

Through this experience, we saw how the Spirit of God was at work through the very human processes of decision-making in our Church. This experience taught the church  to take seriously both our present experience and tradition. Our hierarchies, traditions, teachings, and laws all help us remember. The traditions and structures of the church, however, should not lead us to close our eyes to the working of the Spirit in the world and the situation especially of the poor and the needy today. We need to continue to be obedient to the Holy Spirit by not remaining close-in within ourselves. As Pope Francis told catechists gathered in Rome in 2013,

What I want to say now, I have already said many times before, but it comes from my heart … When we Christians are closed in our group, in our movement, in our parish, in our own environment, we remain closed and what happens to us is what happens to whatever remains closed: when a room is closed the odor of humidity gathers. … A Christian … remains closed and becomes ill.

Pope Francis, International Congress on Catechesis, Vatican City, September 28, 2013

Jesus calls us today, to say yes to the Spirit, to go wherever the Spirit blows. By this, we will know that Jesus is with us, just as a sheep know the voice of their shepherd. In knowing Jesus, we will know the presence of the Father.

The risen Christ has not abandoned us, his disciples, the church at all times. The Holy Spirit, the bond of the love of the Father and the Son, continues to lead and guide all peoples and the church towards the final fulfillment of God’s kingdom.

 

4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER: HEARING JESUS’ VOICE

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from https://legacyicons.com/christ-the-good-shepherd-icon-x120/

Tomorrow, May 13, 2019, more than 60 million Filipinos will go to the polls for the synchronized local and national elections. COMELEC  says that there are 61,843,750 registered voters in the Philippines alone in 2019. 1,822,173 more are registered to vote from overseas.

During the campaign, people heard different voices from thousands of candidates but with one common refrain: You guessed it right, “I will serve you with all of my heart.” Each of the candidates promised to serve up to the last breath of their lives. No, the candidates said, this is not about money, power, politics, influence or status, it’s all about service. The people, however, are sick and tired of these words from the candidates, that sometimes they wonder, whether elections still matter; whether it will make a difference if they vote for this or that candidate.

In today’s fourth Sunday of Easter, also called Good Shepherd Sunday, we listen to the voice of Jesus:

“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.”

In Jerusalem during Jesus’ times, there was only one sheepfold (the pen for sheep). Various flocks would arrive along with their respective shepherds and send all the sheep into it. This made for a rather large herd overall, and there wasn’t a practice of branding or marking in order to tell one from the other.  How then could each shepherd reclaim his own sheep?

There were two ways: First, the shepherd knew them by heart. Sometimes he had a special name for each character in the flock. And second, the sheep themselves recognized their master’s voice immediately. When he called out, they simply got to their feet and came with him, through the sheep-gate.

Christians have a very intimate relationship with Christ in the same way that the shepherd and the sheep have a very close relationship with each other.  Christians are the sheep of Christ the Good Shepherd. As sheep we follow only one good shepherd–Jesus Christ. As sheep, however, we not only have an intimate relationship with Christ, the good shepherd, but also with fellow sheep of the flock. To be a sheep is not just about me and Jesus but also about me and my brothers and sisters just like in a real-life situation of a herd of sheep. As sheep we are not alone and we feel secure in the company of fellow sheep. When we get separated from the flock, like a lost sheep, our lives is in danger. Thus, we belong to one sheepfold called the Church.

As the sheep of Christ the Good Shepherd, today’s fourth Sunday of Easter, offers us three challenges today: First, to hear the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, secondly, to follow the true good shepherd which is Jesus Christ and thirdly, to shepherd one another especially the least and most abandoned just like Christ shepherded us.

  1. Hearing the Voice of Jesus

In today’s world, there are many voices who compete for our attention. To whose voice do we listen? Many of us are attracted to many voices in the world today because often times they offer us instant gratification and solutions to our problems. Only in the long run, we realize that they bring us to our own perdition instead of redemption.

As sheep of his flock,  we are to recognize the voice of Jesus, the good shepherd. Do we recognize the voice of Jesus from among these many voices?

We can only recognize the voice of Jesus in the world today if we have a very close relationship with Jesus. We can discern who among from the many different voices we hear in the world today truly reflects the voice of Jesus. In this process of discernment, we cannot do this alone. That is why we have one another–fellow sheep in the common sheepfold of the church–to guide and support us in recognizing and listening to the voice of Jesus in the world today.

Most of all, however, we have the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus and God the Father, to be our advocate and guide in listening and following the voice of Jesus. Pope Francis affirms that we can recognize Jesus’ voice among all the other “voices” only through the Holy Spirit.

We can study the whole history of salvation, we can study the whole of Theology, but without the Spirit we cannot understand. It is the Spirit that makes us realize the truth or—in the words of Our Lord—it is the Spirit that makes us know the voice of Jesus. Jesus, the Good Pastor, says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me.” Pope Francis, 4/25/2015

But hearing is not just passive hearing. Hearing becomes passive when we go to mass every Sunday, listen to the readings and the homily, but after the mass, there is no change in our attitudes and values. We go back to our old ways and do the things we have been used to all over again, even if it is enslaving, wrong and detrimental.

Thus, hearing the voice of Jesus entails personal transformation where the good news of Jesus penetrates our deepest core and transform us. It also entails doing, applying in our lives and proclaiming the good news that we have heard from Jesus.

In the first reading, from the book of Acts, Luke tells of the preaching of Paul and Barnabas at Pisidian Antioch during the so-called first missionary journey. The pattern of events is typical and is repeated in many cities during the missionary journeys: the apostles preach in the synagogue; a certain number of Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism believe, while others reject the message and stir up opposition against the apostles, who then declare their intention of turning to the Gentiles.

The proclamation of the Word of God has no promise of success, but the Word must be proclaimed whether people hear or refuse to hear (Ez 3:5). What matters is that the word is proclaimed faithfully. This matters even more than that it should be made to seem relevant by artificial stunts and gimmicks.

2. Following the Good Shepherd who is Jesus

During the Biblical times, there were good as well as bad shepherds. Many of Israel’s rulers became bad shepherds. They did no care for the people the way they should have. In Ezekiel 34:2-4, for example, God says:

“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled over them harshly and brutally.”

This is God’s charge against the Pharisee, the cult leader, and the false teacher: that God entrusted them with his own flock, but they betrayed this trust to please themselves at the cost of the flock’s own well-being.

Today we hear of cult leaders and even our own church and public leaders who lived in splendor while their followers barely scrape together money to send them. Several false teachers boast massive houses, expensive cars, and private helicopters. Some have even been accused of sexual and physical abuse!

These are the thieves and the robbers that Jesus refers to in John 10:1. Instead of entering through the door, these individuals try to lure the sheep to them by twisting the scripture. They do not come to care for the sheep; they come to care for themselves.

Jesus said,

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”      (John 10:11)

Jesus sacrifices his own life for the sheep. He is truly selfless. The false teacher sacrifices the sheep for his own life.

There are many shepherds in our world today. Whose shepherd are we following? Who are the good shepherds in our world today who reflects the value of service and sacrifice of Jesus?

This can be a very good guideline as we go to the polls tomorrow. Who among the candidates truly reflects the image of Jesus as good shepherd? Who are the bad and good shepherds from among the candidates?

3. Being good shepherds to one another

Following the good shepherd we are also called to be good shepherd to one another; we are called to shepherd each other. To be in the sheepfold of Jesus is to participate in the ‘shepherdness’ of Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we are called to shepherd one another, to search for the lost and the lonely, to care for the most abandoned, to protect the vulnerable and to defend the poor and the oppressed.

The image of the good shepherd is a call for us to proclaim Jesus’ values and attitudes of service and inclusiveness amidst the world’s vying for power, domination and position. As Easter people we are called to exercise our prophetic stance in the political arena by proclaiming Jesus, the good shepherd, in word and in deed. As Easter people we are called to be the “light of the world” and “salt of the earth” by transforming the world in the light of the gospel.

We also celebrate today Vocation Sunday, a day to reflect, discover and recognize God’s calling in each one of us. Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, calls out especially the religious and clergy  to go out of the comforts of their convents and stay close to the marginalized and become “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.” The call to be a shepherd, however, is not just a call for the ordained and religious. It is a call for all the flock—we, the church, lay and ordained—are called to shepherd one another and have the smell of each other’s ‘sheepness’.

3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER: LIVING THE RESURRECTION – TENDING GOD’S SHEEP

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Do you love me?

The resurrection of Jesus is also about our own resurrection, when we rise up from our weaknesses, failures and sinfulness to embrace a new and victorious life. This is not much truer than in the case of Jesus’ apostles. From weak, fearful and insecure, the resurrection propelled the apostles to become bold, daring and zealous in proclaiming the good news of Jesus.

In the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John are arrested, hauled before the Sanhedrin, and ordered to cease preaching in the name of Jesus. The “Sanhedrin” said to Peter and the apostles, “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name”?  In response to this expression of the highest authority in their Jewish lives, they assert boldly, “We must obey God rather than men.” Ever faithful to Jesus’ command to follow him, they even rejoiced that they were able to “suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” This is a tremendous gesture of defiance that has become an inspiration for the Church especially during the times of persecution.

The resurrection of Jesus provided the greatest opportunity for the apostles to abandon their immature ways and atone for the betrayal they committed to Jesus. This is most especially prominent in Peter’s life.

In the Gospel, the last of the resurrection appearance of Jesus in the gospels, Jesus appears to the disciples while they were catching fish–their old livelihood.  The Gospel scene hints at two failures: the fishermen coming back with no fish and Peter’s denial of Jesus before his death. Yet these failures became occasions for Jesus’ gift of abundance: a large catch of fish, a fuller love that would “glorify God.” Indeed, faithful discipleship is not measured by absence of failure, but by openness to casting one’s lot on Jesus’ commands, a recognition of God’s abundant gifts, and willingness to grow into new life.

John’s Gospel has two charcoal fire scenes. The first, in chapter 18, warms Peter in Caiaphas’ courtyard when, as predicted, he denies his master three times. Today’s Gospel presents the other charcoal fire, near which Jesus invites the denier to atone for his cowardice by confessing his love three times. Peter’s profession of love for Jesus three times is Peter’s atonement for his triple denial of Jesus. Love heals his sins and reunites him to Jesus.

Jesus, however, asks Peter to demonstrate his love for him by service to his people: “Feed my sheep, my lambs.” From love comes deeds, namely feeding and tending Jesus’ lambs and sheep. Loving Jesus is not just a personal relationship with Jesus but essentially overflows into loving and serving others–God’s flock. The lambs and sheep belong to Jesus, not Peter.

Jesus then predicts that Peter’s service will take him where he does not want to go. Peter truly became the kind of man exactly what Jesus envisioned him to be. Love transformed Peter to become the rock of the early church, a fearless proclaimer of the good news and glorifier of God up to his death.

A final paragraph of the gospel contains a prediction of Peter’s martyrdom. This is the earliest reference to that event and its only mention in the New Testament.

Jesus asks us today, like when he asked Peter: “Do you Love me?” Despite our sinfulness, like Peter, may we take the risk to say, “Lord, you know that I love you.” But not just in words but more importantly in action, let us prove our love for Jesus by helping to feed God’s lambs.

 

2ND SUNDAY OF EASTER: THE COMMUNITY OF RESURRECTION

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The second Sunday of Easter is called by many names. First, it is called the Octave Day of Easter since it is the eight day after Easter. It is also called Thomas Sunday because of the story of Thomas in the gospel today. It also called Quasimodo Sunday and Quasimodogeniti.[1] On 30 April 2000, it was also designated as Divine Mercy Sunday by Pope John Paul II.

Eight days have passed since Easter and we have 40 more days to go to celebrate and ponder on the meaning of Jesus’ and our resurrection. Are we living as a community of the resurrection?

The readings for today’s second Sunday of Easter reflect on the qualities of a living community of the resurrection. Our readings today give a lot of clues.

First clue: The Community as Signs and Wonders of God

In the first reading we hear about how the early Christian communities witnessed the resurrection. Let’s hear it directly from Luke in his book the Acts of the Apostles

Many signs and wonders were done among the people
at the hands of the apostles.
They were all together in Solomon’s portico.
None of the others dared to join them, but the people esteemed them.
Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord,
great numbers of men and women, were added to them.

The early church after the resurrection of Jesus performed many signs and wonders through the leadership of the apostles. The apostles continued the divinely empowered ministry of Jesus (soon to be illustrated by the healing of the lame man through Peter and John [Acts 3ff]).

Because of this, new converts were “added.” It was God who added them; it was not the Church that added new members. The new converts did not become members on their own, but God brought them into the redeemed community.

Second Clue: Living the Resurrection not as Individuals but as a Community 

It is always heartwarming to hear that Jesus died and resurrected for me. But Jesus died and resurrected not for you and me alone or exclusively for you and me. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are redeemed not as private individuals but as an individuals interconnected with one another, in other words, as a community.

The apostles after the resurrection, did not go on their own but gathered and lived together as a community. After the resurrection, they were able to regain their strength because they came out of isolation and regroup. Although each of them had their own mission territory to go to, they never saw their mission as individual mission but the mission of the whole body of Christ.

Our faith, the Judeo-Christian faith has always been a community affair. At the Exodus from Egypt it was not an individual, nor a group of individuals, but a community, a people, which was delivered from slavery and led to the promised land. The Old Testament is not primarily concerned with the relationships between YHWH and individual Israelites, but with the relationship between YHWH and Israel. The very work ekklesia which the New Testament uses for ‘church’ comes from the Greek Old Testament where it is used to describe the whole ‘assembly’ of Israel.

Third Clue: A community forgiven and redeemed by Jesus also forgives and redeem others in Jesus’ name.

After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples were still living in fear and despair. In the evening of Easter, the disciples were huddled in the cenacle afraid to go out because they are terrified of the Jews (John 20:19). The disciples were perhaps thinking that, if they had done this to our beloved master, how much more to us, his ordinary disciples.

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews…

Then suddenly,

Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them,
‘Peace be with you’ ” (Jn 20:19).

The first words of the risen Jesus was “Shalom”–peace! The disciples betrayed, abandoned, and denied Jesus during the time that he needed them most—in his hour of passion, suffering and death.  Despite their cowardice and disloyalty, Jesus unconditionally forgave them. He does not complain or demand an apology. He simply offers peace, no vengeance and holding of grudges. What an act of unconditional forgiveness and unwavering friendship!

The risen Jesus passed through the walls and doors of the locked cenacle. This shows that Jesus’ love and forgiveness will traverse any walls of apathy, betrayal and fear. The resurrection will triumph over any hatred and animosity.

This is the reason why St. John Paul II declared this Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday.  God’s mercy is infinitely rich and no amount of human transgressions and obstinacy can stop it from being given to all humanity and God’s creation. The responsorial psalm of today’s liturgy proclaims this theme of mercy. In Psalm 118 we sing, “His mercy endures forever.”

As Jesus has forgiven the disciples, he empowered his disciples to pass on the gift of peace to others. The community of resurrection must be a community of healing and forgiveness. He said to them,

Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Fourth Clue: Faith amidst Doubt

This Sunday is unfortunately remembered as the the story of doubting Thomas. This is in reference to the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles, until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross.

While Thomas expressed doubt, when confronted with the resurrected Jesus, he was one of the apostles who proclaimed the strongest expression of faith with his statement “My Lord and my God” (John 20: 28). He was also one of the apostles who travelled the most in proclaiming the gospel. Tradition maintains that he founded churches in Mesopotamia, Ethiopia and even in India. Tradition also maintained that he died a martyred death there. Perhaps, the doubt of Thomas has made him a stronger and more passionate apostle.

Jesus’ response to Thomas’ declaration of faith was a recognition of the faith of the thousands of generation after the apostles who have come to believe despite not seeing Jesus.

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.’ (Jn 20:29)

We have not seen with our eyes the resurrection of Jesus but we are blessed because we all have believe!  Walking by faith and not by sight is an important mark of the community of the Risen One. This does not mean, however, that we have not experienced doubt in our faith. It rather means that despite our doubts and lack of faith, we continue to follow the Risen Lord and live the new life that he has bestowed upon us.

The heightening of doubt pretty much reflects today’s ethos. There is proliferation of fake news which make us skeptical about the truth across all topics – culture, politics, science and religion. We live in a time of skepticism and doubt that like the apostles of the the early church, believing entails sacrifice of time, talent and even of our very life.  The community of the Risen Lord continue to uphold God’s love, life and goodness despite all the doubt and despair in the world today.

Fifth Clue: A Community Transformed and Sent

The risen Lord having forgiven his disciples, empowered them to spread God’s mercy to others and immediately sent them.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

The resurrection of Jesus transformed the disciples from a bunch of cowards to a band of brave men who preached the Gospel all over the Mediterranean and confidently faced death, some by crucifixion also. Peter, Paul and most of the Apostles suffered the same fate as Jesus. They were persecuted and martyred because they were continuing what Jesus had started – going against a heartless culture and caring for those in need.

As we continue our journey in Easter, let us continue to receive strength from the Risen Lord so that we may continue to be an Easter people.

Let me end with the opening prayer in the mass today:

God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Amen. Alleluiah, Alleluiah, Alleluiah.

 


 

[1] The name Quasimodo came from the Latin text of the traditional Introit for this day, which begins “Quasi modo geniti infantes…” from 1 Peter 2:2, roughly translated as “As newborn babes desire the rational milk without guile…”. from Catholic Encyclopedia listing for Low Sunday.

Easter Sunday: Witnessing to the Resurrection

mary-magdalene-resurrection

On Easter morning, while the men were sleeping, the women went to the tomb very early in the morning and witnessed the first appearance of the risen Jesus. This is perhaps the first surprise of the resurrection of Jesus—the first witnesses of the resurrection were women.

All four gospels recount that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. Mark narrates that “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark 16: 1). Matthew relates that “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning; Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb” (Matthew 28: 1). Luke presents us with a number of women at the empty tomb: “The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James,” as well as the unnamed “others who accompanied them” (Luke 24:10). While John tells us that the risen Jesus appeared only to Mary of Magdala (John 20: 14 – 17). In all four gospels, the name Mary Magdalene was mentioned which gives credence to the belief that Mary Magdalene was one of the first persons to whom the risen Jesus appeared.

For centuries, Mary Magdalene was imputed with a bad reputation and sometimes called a demon-possessed whore. Not until the last century that the Church’s cease to identify her with the “sinful woman” who anoints Jesus’ feet in Scripture. The church later gave Mary Magdalene her due, calling her the Apostle of the Apostles because she was the first to witness the resurrected Jesus.

Why would Jesus first appear to women at a time when women were not considered credible witnesses? This difficulty may have confronted the early Church. For the apostles, at least, this was a problem as Luke writes, “Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (24: 10 – 11).

What does this overlooked detail about Jesus’ resurrection tells us about how to live the Easter spirit?

The first lesson of the resurrection of Jesus is that we are all called to witness the resurrection. This is what the women sought when they went to the tomb very early on that Easter morning. True, we have not seen with our eyes the resurrection of Jesus but as the risen Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John: 20: 29). This is us–we are the blessed ones, we all have not seen and yet we believe!

But believing is not enough. We need to give witness and live out the resurrection. As St. Augustine proclaimed: We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song! We are the children of Easter morn. We need to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus with our feet. We need to walk the resurrection and resurrect the walk.

The second lesson concerns the fact that it was to women that Jesus first appeared after his resurrection. There must be a very good reason why God made his risen Son known first to women and only later to the Apostles. This challenges us to take a hard look once again at women’s place in the church. Even as Pope Francis asks us to develop a deeper theology of women, the Church still struggles today to give women their due voice as witnesses to our risen life in Christ.

The attitude of Mary of Magdala and the other women may teach us something about witnessing to the resurrection. The women witnesses had no status, power, and wealth. This may actually made them more open and receptive to the magnificent surprise of Jesus’ resurrection. After all it has been shown in God’s story of salvation that it is to the weak and humble, like Mary, the mother of Jesus, that God first reveals and acts out God’s mission. Witnessing to the resurrection does not involve status, power and wealth. It calls us to embrace the women witnesses’ disposition of humility and willingness to God’s intervention in our lives.

The third lesson has got to do with the difficulty that the women encountered in testifying to the risen Lord—they were met with scepticism and rejection even by the apostles themselves. The difficulties of the women in giving witness to Jesus resurrection are also experienced today by many Christians who are persecuted because of their faith. They are experienced by Christians who stand up for truth, justice and peace in the midst of complacency, violence, falsehood and injustice. They are also experienced by Christians who lead simple, selfless and authentic connections in the midst of the consumerist, selfie and shallow connections of digital culture. They are also experienced by Christians who demonstrate their Christian identities and values in the midst of the secularized and capitalist world. They are also experienced by Christians who sacrificed their lives for their loved ones, friends and even to strangers without receiving any reward in return.

Witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus will always be challenging. But like the women in the gospel today, we do not need power, position and status. We just need to be constantly open to God’s surprise every day of our lives.

Happy Easter to you all!

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion: Jesus’ Entry to our Center of Power

palm-sunday-2019
Photo by Redemptorist Vice-Province of Manila

Today in the Catholic liturgy, we celebrate Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. This  marks the beginning of the Holy Week–the holiest of all week which celebrates the paschal mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ–his passion, death and resurrection. Today’s Sunday is also called Passion Sunday. Passion is from the Latin word, passio, which means suffering.

Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem recounts Jesus entering into the center of power–the temple of Jerusalem–of Israel. Naturally, some of the powerful men were threatened by Jesus’ triumphal entry; they did not want the people to welcome Jesus in Jerusalem like a king:

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him,
“Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”
He said in reply,
“I tell you, if they keep silent,
the stones will cry out!”

This Holy Week, Jesus will also enter the center of power of our own lives. As Jesus enters into our core, the sinful structures we have built within our lives will be threatened. Jesus will challenge us to confront the contradictions of our lives.

The liturgy today depicts contradictions. This is shown in the sort of split personality tone of the liturgy. The gospel starts upbeat as Jesus’ entered Jerusalem like a king. The people took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out:

“Hosanna!
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
the king of Israel.”

In the second part of the liturgy, however, the upbeat mood suddenly changed to a violent and tragic mood as we listen to the stark reading of Jesus’ passion. The glorious cry of “Hosanna” is turned to the cruel shouts of  “Crucify him!”

Indeed, the passion of Jesus is a story of contradictions. Jesus is depicted as king with a crown of thorns, a staff and clothed in a purple cloak. The soldiers spat on him and struck him on the head with the staff repeatedly. The people who shouted hosanna to our king when Jesus entered Jerusalem just a few days ago are the same people who shouted “Crucify him!” and elected Barabas to be released on the day of Passover. The greatest of these ironies is the cross. Jesus on the cross with the sign “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” died of a slow, painful, excruciating, gruesome, and humiliating death.

We are not outsiders of this greatest tragedy. We are not mere spectators. As we listen to the passion of Jesus every Lenten season, it deeply disturbs us and unmask the profound existential paradox and inner struggle within us. While we eagerly want to share in the glory of Jesus, we cringe at the thought of suffering let alone dying with him.

This holy week let us welcome Jesus to enter triumphantly into the temples of our lives; to confront the contradictions and sinful structures of our lives. Let us become aware of our resistance to let go of the things that gave us power, dominance and control and not allowing the gospel of Jesus as the guide of our lives. Let us admit our hypocrisies that while we worship  Jesus inside our churches, we participated in his crucifixion by our collusion with the prevalence of evil in our world today. Let us carry the cross with Jesus by embracing the suffering of others.

May you truly have a holy week!

 

 

 

5TH SUNDAY OF LENT: GOD’S MERCY TRIUMPHS OVER JUDGMENT

devotee-lady

One would think that in today’s technologically, economically and socially advanced age, death penalty would have no place in our society.  Although most nations have abolished capital punishment, the reality is, over 60% of the world’s population live in countries where the death penalty is retained, such as China, India, the United States, Indonesia,Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, among all mostly Islamic countries, as is maintained in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Sri Lanka.[1] Just recently Brunei introduced a new Islamic law that sexual relations between men are punishable by death through stoning. In the Philippines, although capital punishment has been outlawed in 2006, several politicians with the blessing of President Duterte, are advocating the relegalization of death penalty. 

In today’s gospel of the 5th Sunday of Lent, the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery. As prescribed by Mosaic Law the punishment for someone like her is death penalty by stoning.

The pharisees and the scribes did this in order to trap Jesus.  This is a no-win situation for Jesus, or so they thought. On the one hand, if Jesus orders that she be stoned, he is in trouble with the Romans, who have taken the right to impose death penalty away from the Judeans.  On the other hand, if he advocates that she not be stoned, he would appear to deny the law of Moses and thereby put himself in a bad light with Jewish officials. 

Jesus, however, was a master not just of not falling into their traps but also of calling their bluff.  Jesus used their own trap to expose their hypocrisy. In response to their continual badgering, Jesus challenges this overzealous lynch mob to examine their motives: “Let the one among you who is without sin—let that one be first to east a stone at her?”  Appearing to be seekers after law and order, they are exposed as hypocrites simply bent on protecting their own power. Jesus’ delay tactic of scribbling on the ground has allowed some time for this reality to sink in. One by one, the accusers depart, leaving Jesus alone with the accused. 

Besides hypocrisy, Jesus exposed their discrimination against the poor woman. If this woman was caught in the very act of adultery, then there had to have been a man with her when she was caught. Where is he? Why isn’t he here with her? Did the scribes and Pharisees just let him go? The law of Moses prescribes stoning him too.

Jesus’ response, most of all, revealed the nature of God’s judgment in the face of our sins. When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive. As the letter of James (2:13) says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” And as Pope Francis said, “He has the ability to forget. … He kisses you, he embraces you, and he says to you: ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now, on, sin no more.’ Only that counsel does he give you.[2]

God is not here giving approval to immorality. As Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” St. Augustine commented on these words of Jesus, “You see then that the Lord does indeed pass sentence, but it is sin he condemns, not people.”[3]

Jesus’ attitude is reflected in the other readings today. In the first reading, despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God said through the prophet Isaiah that he is preparing a new world order for them: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!”

In the second reading, Paul, writing to the Philippians about the legalistic teachers who would impose the fullness of Jewish tradition and practice upon Christian Gentiles, insists on the newness that faith in Jesus has brought into his life as a keeper of the Torah.

The readings today challenges our hypocrisy and self-righteousness. It is easy for us to take a self-righteous attitude toward the world; it is much more difficult to take Jesus’ attitude: “Neither do I condemn you: go and do not sin again.” All of us have contributed to the darkness of the world; none of us can cast the first stone. 

Jesus action in the gospel today and belief in God’s infinite mercy has led the Church to seriously challenge capital punishment all throughout history—whether by stoning, hanging, gas, poison, or electric shock—as a moral means for pursuing justice and protecting the common good.

Our work during Lent is like that of the adulterous woman: to truthfully face our sinfulness and faithfully remain with Jesus. We too are sinners. We too are in need of mercy. Though we sin, Jesus only wishes new life for us. 

Let us today seek God’s mercy. Let us recognize our own shortcomings, and seek the help of Our Blessed Mother in confessing them before God.

Here is the Holy Week schedule at the shrine.

lent-schedule-2019

 


 

[1] “Capital Punishment,” Wikipedia. Accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment

[2] Pope Francis, “Mercy is the Lord’s Most Powerful Message Today,” March 17, 2013

[3] St. Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John 33, 4-6. 8: CCL 36, 307-310