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

looking at the sky

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2ND SUNDAY OF EASTER: LIVING AS A RESURRECTED COMMUNITY

obo_catanduanes2

Eight days have passed since Easter. But the conditions we are living today seem like we are still in the Lenten season. With the quarantine and lockdown, we are relegated to stay home and distanced ourselves physically from each other. The poor suffer the most as they experienced hunger from the loss of day-to-day income.

Nevertheless, we have 40 more days to go to celebrate and ponder on the meaning of Jesus’ and our resurrection. How are we living the spirit of Easter during these difficult times? The question is not just on a personal level but more so on a communal level. How 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. The times after Jesus’ resurrection are no different from the times we live now. The early Christians lived in constant fear because of persecution from both the Jewish and Roman authorities. The Christians were also one of the most oppressed and poorest sectors in those times.

Despite the many miseries and difficulties, the early Christians lived out the spirit of resurrection. Our readings today gives us some clues on how the early Christians lived as a community of the resurrection.

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. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are redeemed not as private individuals but as individuals interconnected with one another, in other words, Jesus died and resurrected for us as a community.

The apostles after the resurrection, despite their fear and misery, 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.

The word used in Greek to describe the life of the early Christian church is koinonia. It is a derivative of koinos, the Greek word for common. The word has such a multitude of meanings that no single English word is adequate to express its depth and richness. It can mean either one or all of the following: fellowship, partnership, sharing, friendship, relationship, solidarity, and communion.

The early Church lived in koinonia of the word, prayer, eucharist and material goods.

All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their property and possessions
and divide them among all according to each one’s need.
Every day they devoted themselves
to meeting together in the temple area
and to breaking bread in their homes.

The early Church lived in koinonia of the word: The early Church regularly listened to the proclamation of the Word by the apostles. They constantly reflected on the word of God in the light of their situation.

The early Church lived in koinonia of prayer: The early Church regularly prayed together both in good times and bad times. They regularly prayed for each other.

The early Church lived in koinonia of the eucharist: The early Church always gathered in the temple area and in their homes for the “breaking of the bread”–the earlist term they used for the eucharist. They faithfully fulfilled Jesus’ words: Do this in remembrance of me.

The early Church lived in koinonia of material goods: The early Church had all things in common. They sold their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.

Even if one has a deep personal relationship with God, to live the resurrection, therefore, is not to live alone, but to live in communion with fellow believers in prayer, sharing of goods, proclaiming the Word of God and celebrating the Eucharist.

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.

EASTER VIGIL: WE ARE AN EASTER PEOPLE

ressurection

Tonight is the final day of our triduum which we celebrate through the liturgy of Easter Vigil. The Easter Vigil, the mother of all liturgies, is the most beautiful and the longest liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church.

This is the most blessed and most joyful night of the year as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. This is the night when Jesus redeemed us from the slavery of sin and all the destructive elements of our life to a life of freedom. This is the night when the light of God encompasses over the darkness of sin. As proclaimed in the Exultet or Easter Proclamation sung just after we took our places following processing in from the Easter fire.

This is the night when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!
This is the night when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.
Night truly blessed, when heaven is wedded to earth,
and we are reconciled to you!

At Easter vigil, we do not just look up to Jesus and proclaim, He is risen! On Easter vigil, we will also proclaim to ourselves: I am resurrection, you are resurrection, and we are resurrection. As St. Augustine proclaimed: We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song! We are the children of Easter morn. We are redeemed by Christ from death and sin. This is our deepest and truest identity as a people. We celebrate and proclaim this most solemn truth in the Easter Vigil through the renewal of our baptism.

Indeed, Jesus wants to raise all of us into new life but sometimes we don’t want to be raised up. We stay imprisoned within ourselves, and entombed in our old ways which gives us false security. Or perhaps, we have allowed people to continue to pull us down to the pit of hell with them. We have created many tombs in our lives. We have allowed many things in our lives which kills our spirit, hardens our hearts and freezes our will so we remain dead. We have chosen this part—to remain in hell and remain dead. The saddest thing is when we have become comfortable in hell. And we don’t want to get out of hell anymore.

Thus, even though Jesus has risen, sometimes the world does not want so much to believe as many of us do not live as victorious and resurrected people. The German atheist philosopher, Frederich Nietszhe, once said, “I might have been able to believe in the message of Christ if Christians looked  resurrected.”

Ours is an Easter religion. We do not deny our own frailties and failures. We do not deny the evils that surround us: the wars that have killed some 100 million people in our (last) century; the poverty that grips more than half of the human race; the hunger that kills millions every year and ruins the lives of millions more; the discrimination that divides the human family into contending parties; the pandemic that has killed thousands and brought misery to millions of people all over the world.

We do not deny these miseries, but we refuse to surrender to their power because of our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sinfulness will be transformed; suffering will be vindicated; death will be overcome; a new life will arise: that is the Easter message of the paschal mystery.

Tonight, the most important of all nights for our faith, we call upon Jesus to open and break the gates of hell in our lives. Let us ask Jesus to “harvest” our spirits deadened by  the shackles of hell we have made for ourselves. Let us call Jesus who has risen to arouse us out of the tomb of our selfishness, apathy, pride, insecurity, fear, anxiety, and many other death-giving and pathetic mindsets. Like Jesus may we rise up to start anew and recreate our lives and our world under the blessings of God’s abundant grace.

“Let us feast with joy in the Lord.” Just as Christ passed through death to resurrection, so too will we and the whole world pass through its suffering to the glory of a new life.

So now, let us rise up with Jesus, and live out our risen life!

Happy Easter!

 

BLACK SATURDAY: CHRIST’S WORK CONTINUES

harrowing of hell

We usually associate Black Saturday as the day when God did nothing because God is dead. And so in the church, there is no Eucharist. Today is mostly a day of silence, sitting, and waiting. That’s how it is the morning after the burial.

But far from doing nothing, God is doing a very important mission.

Holy Saturday is when Christ descended into hell. In hell, Jesus was busy rescuing people from death and sharing with them the victory of his resurrection. We always recite in the creed every Sunday mass that after Jesus died on the cross “he descended into hell”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this:

By the expression “He descended into hell”, the Apostles’ Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil “who has the power of death” (Heb 2:14) [#636]. In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him [#637].

Even in death, Jesus was at work. Death did not stop the mission of Jesus’ redemption. On the contrary, death unleash the final act of Jesus’ redemption–Jesus destroying death not just for himself but for all humanity.

Jesus’ mission in hell is wonderfully depicted in an icon more popular in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. This is the icon of Harrowing of Hell.[1] Although this icon is not popular in the Western tradition today, the message of this icon was commonly proclaimed in the ancient and medieval period of Western Christianity by many church fathers like Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and many others. Harrowing is an old English word which means harvesting. Thus, we can also call this icon as the harvesting of souls in hell.

In the icon, we see Jesus standing on the broken gate of hell. Hell is the dark pit at the bottom of the icon. In some icons, we can even see angels binding Satan in hell. Then we see Jesus pulling two figures up out of hell. This is Adam and Eve, imprisoned in hell since their deaths; imprisoned, along with all humanity, due to sin. Eve is generally depicted in a red robe. On both sides of the icon are figures from the Old Testament like Abel, King David, Moses, prophets and many others waiting for Jesus to rescue them from hell. We can also see broken locks and keys used by Jesus to unlock the tombs of those souls living in hell.

The message of the icon is also beautifully expressed in an ancient homily, of unknown authorship, usually entitled The Lord’s Descent into the Underworld that is the second reading at Office of Readings on Holy Saturday .

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

As we prepare for the great commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection at Easter Vigil tonight, let us continue to prepare ourselves to rise up with Jesus in victory.

Here’s a video explanation of the Icon of Christ’s Resurrection


 

[1]Joel J. Miller, “The harrowing of hell and the victory of Christ,” Patheos, March 30, 2013. Accessed 25/03.2018 at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joeljmiller/2013/03/the-victory-of-christ-and-the-harrowing-of-hell/

3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT: FROM WORLDLY JOY TO DIVINE JOY

divine joy

There’s always a different feeling whenever the Christmas season starts. It evokes an indescribable feeling of profound joy, excitement and longing.

Indeed, Christmas is the season of joy. It is the season of festivities: Christmas parties, eating, drinking, exchange gifts, Christmas carols, family reunions, etc. All these celebrations and rejoicing give us plenty of joys, even if fleeting, to escape and forget the pain and sorrow in life.

There is a far greater joy in Christmas, however, than all our wordly joys.  Christmas is the sublime event when God’s joy entered into our joys. In order to fully experience the joy of Christmas we need to give way to God’s joy or to elevate our joys into divine joy.  The joy of God must increase and the joy of the world must decrease. Our joys must give way to the biggest joy – the coming of our saviour Jesus Christ. As in one of my most well-loved Christmas Carols, Joy to the World!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing

This third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete is Latin word for rejoice. Gaudete Sunday invites us to partake with divine joy as God became one among us. The readings for this 3rd Sunday of Advent describes for us the meaning of divine joy.

In the First Reading, the prophet Isaiah prophesy about the joy when the Messiah comes:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.

Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
they will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.

In the Gospel Reading, when John the Baptist in captivity sends his disciples to ask Jesus whether Jesus is the one the Israelites have been waiting for, Jesus says they should tell John what they hear and see:

the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.

Christmas is the profound event when our joys are wedded to God’s joy, as the song goes, “when heaven and nature sing.” We elevate our wordly joys into divine joy when we truly experience God’s immersion into the messiest and muddiest experiences of our humanity. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Christmas is not the time to escape and forget our pains and sorrows but rather to confront and find God in the dirtiest and messiest of our realities. Christmas is the time to experience Jesus’ liberation from our captivities and live with joy at our being released from our fears, blindness, deafness and leprosy.

The coming of the Lord is both exciting and demanding. We are all in captivity to the familiar, to our ways, to our expectations.  Jesus is changing, rearranging us, our values, our ways of seeing, listening, living. Christmas joy is the Lord Jesus Christ walking with us as we take small and steady steps in reforming our lives and transforming the world we live in.

 

1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT: SEIZE THE DAY

woman-carrying-baby-at-beach-during-sunset-51953

In Dead Poets Society, one of my most favorite films of the deceased American actor Robin Williams, Williams plays the unconventional professor John Keating. Keating delivers the words, “Carpe Diem” to his students on the first day of school at Welton Academy. Keating tells his students that one day, no matter what kinds of people they become as adults, they’re going to be “food for worms.” Because life is all-too short, students should make the most of their time on the earth. The best way to make the most of life is to be creative and original—to seize the day—and not simply to repeat one’s parents’ and grandparents’ lives. In other words, Keating’s goal as an educator is to teach his students to think for themselves, to explore their passions and live accordingly.

What are the most important things you want to do before you die? I am not referring to a bucket list like to skydive or climb the Himalayas which only the rich can afford. Perhaps, you can ask forgiveness from a loved one whom you have wronged, say I love you to a special person you have wanted to but didnt for a long time, reconcile with a long lost friend, follow your dreams and your passion. In other words, don’t just be a cliché, dont just be a statistic. Just do it now, seize the day!

This coming Sunday marks the beginning of a new year in the church with the celebration of the Advent season.  Advent is about the profound mystery of the coming down of God into humanity. God became human and dwelt among us more than 2,000 years ago in Jesus Christ. Christ will come again at the end of time to finally establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  Thus, Advent is the celebration of the coming of Christ in two parts, the first part expresses the exultant anticipation of the 2nd coming of Christ, which is celebrated in the first four Sundays of Advent. The 2nd part commemorates the joy of the 1st coming of Christ, which begins on December 17, 8 days before Christmas.

On this First Sunday of Advent, the readings are about the end times which will culminate the fulfilment of God’s glory. Although the readings today talks about the end times, the real message of the readings is to pay attention to the present, for it is in the present that God is always coming. It is in the present that we rehearse the fulfillment of God’s promises for the future. We live in the tension between the fullness of time in the end and the nitty gritty reality of the here and now. The end times is already here but not yet. Thus, in a nutshell, the challenge and the message of the readings is, seize the day!

The end times is not about destruction and annihilation but the jubilant expectation for what will God do to our present times. The Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth once protested that for many Christians today the last judgment had become a dire expectation of doom, whereas the New Testament Christians looked forward to “that day” with joy, waiting for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of the Lord (2 Pet 3:12).

The New Testament writers expressed this mindset about the end times through the understanding of time as kairos. Kairos was used to mean “the appointed time in the purpose of God,” the time when God acts (for example in Mark 1:15: “The kairos is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand!”). Kairos was used 86 times in the New Testament to refer to an opportune time, a “moment” or a “season” such as “harvest time,” whereas chronos was used 54 times to refers to a specific amount of time, such as a day or an hour (e.g. Acts 13:18 and 27:9).

The call to seize the day is ubiquitous in our readings today. To seize the day is to see the wonders of God working in our daily lives along with our actions and efforts to build a better world. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah prophesied what the end times mean in terms of God’s wonders and human cooperation–there will be ample opportunity for peace building instead of the usual war strategy,

They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
one nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.

What a beautiful vision! People will be moved to turn instruments of war, like swords and spears, into implements of peace, like agricultural tools such as plowshares and pruning hooks. Imagine what the world will be when all the trillion of dollars spent on war every year would instead be used for building sustainable irrigation systems, more effective farming implements and better support for farmers. We would have a boom in food production and have a massive reduction in hunger and poverty.

In the second reading, St. Paul tells the Romans to seize the day now that God’s salvation is near:

You know the time;
it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.
For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed;
the night is advanced, the day is at hand.
Let us then throw off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light;
let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day,
not in orgies and drunkenness,
not in promiscuity and lust,
not in rivalry and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.

Pope Francis said the same thing in 2013, when he challenged the Atheneum students to shun the security of their lives and avoid complacency,

Please do not watch life go by from the balcony! Mingle where the challenges are calling you to help carry life and development forward, in the struggle over human dignity, in the fight against poverty, in the battle for values and in the many battles we encounter each day.

Vespers with Atheneum Students
Saturday, 30 November 2013

In the gospel, Jesus told his disciples and the people to seize the day by being vigilant and always prepared for the coming of the Lord in the present which offers many opportunities:

Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Advent is a way of life. Advent is an attitude to make the most of the opportunities of the present. Advent is a new way of seeing God’s wonders in a world mired in violence, injustice, division and despair. Advent is to seize the day as we journey toward the fullness of Life to come.

What can you seize today?

33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE END IS NEAR

Yolanda Tacloban 2013-30
Photo courtesy of Bro. Jun Santiago, CSsR

The news in most TV and newspapers throughout the week reads, earthquakes in the Philippines, flood in Venice, catasthropic bush fires in NSW, Australia, volcanic eruptions in Russia, melting glaciers in Iceland, deforestation in the Amazon, haze in Indonesia …

Jesus, in the gospel of today’s 33rd Sunday in ordinary time, also depicts the future events from one catastrophe to another, both human-made and natural:

Then he said to them,
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.”

Today, the world is faced with crises every bit as bad as apocalyptic literature might suggest. Real threats of unrecoverable climate changes, economic crises that more than wreck people’s lives, war and violence that continue to kill thousands of people. A fifth of the world’s population lives in absolute poverty. About three billion people lack adequate nutrition. There are somewhere between one billion and two billion unemployed adults in the world. More than half of the countries of the world have used violence against their own citizens in the form of torture, brutality, and summary executions.

In the midst of all these crises and tribulations, those with power, wealth and position continue to reign. Their power and influence continued to grow stronger, while the vast majority of the common tao remain poorer and powerless every day.

This will be reversed at the end of times. In the first reading, the prophet Malachi warns that the day of the Lord is coming which will spell doom for all the arrogant and evildoers. But for those who fear the name of God, that day will mean vindication and salvation, beautifully described as the rising of the sun of righteousness with healing in its wings.

But before this glorious salvation and vindication from the Lord, there will be hardships even persecution for Jesus’ disciples.

“Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.”

The Lord, however, will give us the strenght and the courage to  pass through these trials and difficulties. We only need to hold on to God’s power and guidance.

It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

Each generation has witnessed the signs of the end times. Instead of obsessing about the end, however, the message of the readings today calls us to turn our attention to the present. We need to heed the message the biblical prophets in the scriptures has unceasingly proclaimed:  “Repent!” It is a message that is very present-oriented; it is God’s will for the here and now.

The Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth once protested that for many Christians the last judgment had become a dire expectation of doom, whereas the New Testament Christians looked forward to “that day” with joy, waiting for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of the Lord (2 Pet 3:12).

Being attentive to the present means that we cannot just remain idle and passively wait for eternity.  There is no need to stop fulfilling our daily duties, which is what some Christians in Thessalonica, in the second reading, were doing.  They had stopped working, waiting for the end of the world, and preaching the same to others, confusing them and causing a lot of disturbance. Paul had to intervene and warn them in very strong words:

We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a
disorderly way,
by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.
Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly
and to eat their own food.

The final days of the world are always right in front of us. The end is always near. This means that we must always be ready, be present to the signs and challenges of the times. There is never any time to waste. If we need to repent, now is the time. If we want to thank God, now is the time. If we need to forgive, now is the time.

Scriptures tell us, now is the day of salvation. Now is the time when the Lord is with us, bringing compassion and love. Every Sunday, in the Eucharist, we celebrate, the coming of the future fulfillment of the kingdom of God now.

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

devotee-hope

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

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

The first verse of the second reading says it all,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter: The Heart of Christian Faith

easter-vigil-2019

Easter is the heart of our Christian life. That is why Easter is celebrated not just during the 50 days of Easter season. Every Sunday is, in fact, the celebration of the resurrection of the Lord.

At creation, God set apart the 7th day of the week, Saturday, as the Sabbath. Yet, when the early Christian church began gathering together for corporate worship, they chose the 1st day of the week, Sunday, as the regular day of their gathering. Sunday was set apart because the Lord Jesus Christ defeated sin and death, leaving his borrowed tomb empty, on a Sunday morning. That was the first Easter. Since then, the church has set apart every Sunday as a celebration of the resurrection.

Every Sunday is Easter Sunday. In the midst of our daily struggles and difficulties – poverty, despair, war, violence, sickness – we gather for the Eucharist to proclaim Jesus’ victory.  We, the people of God, who have received the new life in Christ in baptism, is fundamentally, a freed, redeemed people.

Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ the future kingdom is present. Christ’s resurrection is the beginning and promise of that which is yet to come.  Christian life and salvation are first fruits, living in the promise of the future of God in Christ.

The sublime dignity of being a victorious people, however, comes with great responsibility. Sadly, many of us choose to suffer than to live out the demands and responsibility of a freed and redeemed people.  Just like many of the Israelites who was freed from slavery in Egypt, wanting to get back to Egypt and remain as slaves because it has been the life they have become comfortable with. Sometimes being free is harder than being a slave.

Indeed, many of us would just accept what is happening around us without a fight, as if already regarding ourselves as losers and victims.  Centuries of being colonized, both by foreign colonizers and local powerful politicians, have led us to deeply imbibe a defeatist attitude.  Fr. Emmanuel Santos, a Filipino professor in Rhode Island, USA said: “Even our religion which is often regarded as a source of strength and hope, is the same religion which create a weakening mentality of victimhood.  ‘Learned victimhood’ is the greatest tragedy of Filipino religiosity.”

Yet, in order to have genuine change, if we are to truly live out being redeemed people, we have to overcome this defeatist and loser attitude.  Christ’s victory over death smacks off any defeatist attitude.

Jesus Christ our Savior’s going through suffering, death and the effects of sin showed us back to the goodness of all creation and that all will be well.  Easter empowers us to believe that no matter how much evil is taking place around the world, good will triumph over evil.   In the midst of suffering and death, of injustice and oppression, of violence and war around the world, there is a way which leads us to the reign of God where justice, love and peace will prevail in the end.  It is this greatest event which propel us Christians to give hope and meaning to a chaotic world filled with meaninglessness and helplessness.

Gladly, there are growing signs of resurrection in our country today. There is an increasing realization among our people that real transformation will not come from the self-appointed messiahs vying for the highest post of the land promising the illusion of change in our county.  Little by little many of us are claiming responsibility for the mess where we find our country today and that true change can only come if each one takes responsibility for one another.

This is the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.  We are to proclaim the Easter message with courage and zeal. Remember the zeal and passion Mary and the apostles, and the early Christians showed in proclaiming Jesus resurrection after they experience the all-powerful event of Jesus rising from the dead.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us so that we may no longer look for Jesus among the dead, for he is alive and has become the Lord of our lives.   From the waters of death and sin may we rise with Him to renew our lives and the face of the earth.