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.

Advertisements

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.

2ND SUNDAY OF LENT: TOWARDS RESURRECTION

transfiguration
Photo from the top of Mt. Manalmon

Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, we reflected on the desert as a primary symbol of the Lenten discipline. This second Sunday of Lent, we will reflect on the mountain top as the primary symbol of the goal of Lent. Today’s 2nd Sunday of Lent suggests that the end of Lent is not the suffering and death but the resurrection of Jesus. Lent is the disciplining of our mortal and sinful body and soul in order to partake of the resurrected and transfigured body and soul of Jesus.

If desert was a testing ground, mountains are sacred grounds where God often reveals himself to people, called theophanies in theological terms. In the Bible, the mountains top symbolize the presence of God, since on top of the mountain, people are “closer to God” who dwells in the heavens (as in the sky). Thus, mountains and hills represent a higher level of spiritual consciousness or awareness. Mountain symbolize the transformation that will happen to us at the end of time, a transformation that will happen when we enter into the mode of existence of the resurrected Christ.

The second Sunday of Lent clarifies for us that resurrection is the main goal of Lent. Resurrection is our ultimate way of life not passion and death.   As St. Augustine proclaimed: We are an Easter people! We are children of Easter morn. We are a redeemed people, redeemed by Christ from death and sin. This is our deepest and truest identity as a people.

Many liturgists refer to Lent/Eastertide as “The Great 90 Days,” in Tagalog, pagsisiyamnapo.  Lent is 40 days which is the preparation. Easter is 50 days which is the celebration of resurrection. Easter is longer than Lent because it is the celebration of the resurrection while Lent is shorter because it is just the preparation.

We cannot separate Lent from Easter, in the same way that we cannot separate Easter from Lent.  Together, they compose the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ–Jesus’ Life, Death and Resurrection. The word ‘Paschal’ comes from an ancient Aramaic word, pasha (Hebrew, pesah) meaning ‘Passover’.  Passover is the central event in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). It is the story of of Israel’s liberation by God from slavery in Egypt. On the night of the passover, the Israelites were instructed by God to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a slaughtered spring lamb so that when the spirit of the Lord see this, the spirit will pass over the first-born in these homes, and thus, sparing them from death. As Christians we believe that Jesus has become the true sacrificial Passover “Lamb of God” (John 1:29).  This was fulfilled through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We celebrate the promise of sharing in the paschal mystery of Christ at our Baptism.

The readings today speak about the radical transformation which God will fulfill for us.

In the first reading, from the book of Genesis, God promised to Abraham that God will transform God’s chosen people–Israel. God will bestow an abundant posterity and land to Israel. God sealed his promise through a covenant which God established with Abraham:

“To your descendants I give this land,
from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.”

In the Second Reading, St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, speaks of the change of our earthly existence in the final consummation.

Our citizenship is in heaven,
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified body
by the power that enables him also
to bring all things into subjection to himself.

The term “glorious body,” reflects an apocalyptic hope, that is, the life we hope to achieve at the end of time. According to this hope, the life of the age to come will not be merely a prolongation of this present life but an entirely new, transformed mode of existence. It will be a mode of existence that Christ entered at his resurrection.

Today’s gospel tells the story of the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. In today’s gospel from Luke, we read

Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.

Transfiguration Icon

The Greek word used for transfiguration is metamorphoo—this is the root of the English word, metamorphosis. We use the word metamorphosis more popularly today for the transformation of caterpillar to butterfly, likewise in the transformation of a maggot into an adult fly and the changing of a tadpole into a frog. These are some of the amazing wonders of nature that we can ever witness in our entire lives. It’s almost like a change from one creature to a totally different creature. Who would have imagine that a beautiful butterfly would come out of an ugly caterpillar? Indeed, metamorphosis is a reminder and a symbol from nature that something good can come out even from the messiest and ugliest reality of our lives. Change, even radical change is possible as nature have shown us.

This gives us the greatest hope and joy in anticipation of the transformation that will become of us and of God’s creation in the fullness of time. Jesus’ transfiguration was a foretaste of the metamorphosis that is to become of us at the end of time. This also happens to us everyday. We often have glimpses of glory: in a remarkable sunset, in the shining face of a delighted child, in the radiant joy of new parents. Like the transfiguration, these glimpses of glory encourage and strengthen us to continue the journey of life toward eternal glory.

The divine metamorphosis that occurred to the three disciples on the mountain top during the Transfiguration of the Lord will also happen to us and we will become “God-viewers.” Like them and all the Saints of the ages, God’s light will metamorphose our whole body and soul. We will achieve what is called Theosis (Deification) and shine as luminaries radiating the light of the knowledge of God. We will become partakers of the Divine Grace and communicants of God.

This is also true for our world, Jesus’ resurrection is a symbol of hope for the change that will happen in the world from injustice into integrity, from hatred into kindness and from violence into peace. This gives the utmost hope especially to those who have long been suffering and desperate. But as Jesus showed us, the only way to transfiguration and transformation is through suffering and ultimately dying to ourselves.  Change can only happen at the cost of ourselves.

All these musings call for a reorientation of Lent. Australian Redemptorist Fr. Kevin O’Shea suggests that we take a reverse journey during Lent. We begin in the end—the resurrection:

Suppose we could … do Lent backwards. Suppose, instead of Ash Wednesday, we started with Easter Sunday. Suppose we then thought what we would have liked to have done to make ourselves ready for our share in Jesus’ resurrection. It would be like a reverse Easter vigil, not for one night, but for 40 nights. Backwards.[1]

Lent begins with the profound belief that we are a redeemed people through the resurrection. This victorious reality is what we received from our baptism. Baptism endows our profound identity as a redeemed people through the resurrection of Jesus. That is why from the earliest history of the church, the church has set aside the whole 40 days of Lent as the preparation and training period of candidates for baptism, called catechumens. The catechumens are solemnly baptized at the end of the Lenten season on Easter Vigil. This worthy practice was revived by the church in recent years through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program. Thus, in Lent, we re-evaluate our lives in the light of our baptismal promises and identity. Lent is an academy where once again we relearn the meaning and implications and appreciate the wonder of baptism.

Whilst rituals, penitence, fasting, prayer and almsgiving are important, they are not the primary goal of Lent. As we go through Lent each year, oftentimes, our focus is on the external rituals and acts of penitence.  In so doing, Lent becomes about us—our efforts, discipline, sacrifices and goals no longer about the victory of Jesus. When this happen the whole Lenten discipline becomes superficial, merely obligations that we have to go through but does not bring forth true change. Thus, come Easter, after all the observances in Lent, we become what we call in Tagalog, BSDU: balik sa dating ugali (back to old ways).

By returning to our victorious baptismal identity, Lent becomes a time for examining our participation in the resurrection of Jesus. Lent is pondering what “rising from the dead” means. The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope, that despite all our frailties and failures, our wickedness and weaknesses, God’s grace will redeem us over and over again. There is no human being, however evil or sinful, that is beyond redemption by Jesus’ resurrection. As nature have shown us, change, even radical change, is possible. This too gives us hope in a transformed world, that in the midst of too much suffering in the world around us and the seeming prevalence of evil in our world, goodness will triumph, Jesus will triumph, and we will reach our fullness and life’s fullness in God’s grace.

 


 

[1] Kevin O’ Shea, “Ash Wednesday,” cssr.org. Accessed 22/02/2018 at https://www.cssr.org.au/writings/dsp-default.cfm?loadref=2765

 

4th Simbang Gabi – December 19: The Annunciation of Samson and John the Baptist

simbang-gabi

Welcome to the fourth Simbang Gabi, or as I have called it, Christmas academy. In this academy,  we are going back to the original Christmas story and discover the true meaning of Christmas. These nine days novena masses are also helping us deepen our understanding of the incarnation of Jesus, how God becoming flesh and dwelling among us can impact our lives.

The Christmas story is primarily the birth of our Lord God-became-human. The birth of Jesus is foreshadowed by many other birth stories. These birth stories depict the birth of a child, which in human condition, were impossible cases, but realized because of God’s grace and intervention. These birth stories are slowly building-up and anticipating the greatest birthday of all time: God-becoming-human.

The birth stories in today’s readings involve elderly women who had never borne a child, in short, barren or sterile. In a society where having children, especially boys, was a wife’s primary duty, to be unable to produce children was a terrible shame. It was the ultimate failure.

Through God’s grace, however, their barrenness were seen less as a curse than as a preparation for something special. What is special to these stories is that the child to be born will have a very special role bestowed upon them by God. It is like saying that God had played a role with the mother in the birth of this child. He was, in a way, God’s child.

Today we hear two annunciation birth stories–the birth story of Samson and John the Baptist. Both stories shows the mighty power and blessing of God which will become the source of strength for these two characters.

In the First Reading, we hear of the birth of Samson. Manoah his father came from Zorah, in the territory of Dan. (Dan was one of the twelve sons of Jacob.) The wife, whose name is not given, is sterile – the greatest curse a married woman could suffer in her society.

When the child is born, his mother names him Samson, a word which means ‘sun’ or ‘brightness’. This could be an expression of joy over the birth of an unexpected child or refer to a nearby town, Beth Shemesh, ‘house of the sun(-god)’.

Samson grew to become physically very strong but in other respects very weak, particularly where women were concerned. And it was a woman, the notorious Delilah, who would bring about his downfall.

Samson can be seen in a way as a symbol of his people. The misdeeds of the Israelites are often pictured by the prophets in the light of the foolish pursuit of foreign women, some of them of ill-repute, and falling victim to them. During the Judges’ period, the people constantly prostituted themselves in worshipping Canaanite gods.

The passage ends with the words: “The child grew and the Lord blessed him: and the Spirit of the Lord began to move him.” This final remark refers to his future feats of strength. Compare this with the words about Jesus after he had returned to Nazareth following his presentation in the Temple by Mary and Joseph: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him” (Luke 2:52).

In the gospel, the angel Gabriel breaks the news to Zechariah about her wife bearing a child despite her barrenness and old age. Zechariah finds it unbelievable and he is afraid too, this may be because he doesn’t know how to break this news to his kinsfolk without being labeled as being out of his mind. But God spares Zechariah from this undue burden. He intervenes and does all the talking for him. Zechariah is rendered ‘speechless and unable to talk until the days these things take place,’ (v. 9).

In many ways, we can draw some parallels between our lives today and the lives of the mothers of Samson and John the Baptist. We experience a lot of barrenness on many levels in our lives. Many are considered as failures and cursed despite all their best efforts to make a living in society.  Many are losing faith and thinking that it is impossible to enjoy the prosperity that God has promised to all. Despite the progress our world has made there is a lot of fruitlessness and desolation in the lives of many of our people. Many who have worked hard have not reaped the true fruit of their labor.

We ask …

Why, despite all the hard and long work of ordinary labourers, they still do not have enough food to lay on the table, good education and health to provide to their children and  a bright future that they can leave to their children?

Why despite enormous wealth the world has produced, the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer? The global economy is growing but many people do not receive any benefit from it, worst, it has intensified their poverty.

Why despite all the efforts and advances in the past at empowering people, promoting democracy and tolerance, we allow authoritarian leaders to violate human rights and destroy life especially of the poor and vulnerable in society?

Why despite the advanced information technology which was originally envisioned to connect us, we have heightened divisiveness in society and narcissism among individuals?

Why despite the advancement in science and knowledge about nature, we are on the verge of catastrophic environmental destruction because of climate change?

We also ask the church: Why despite more than 500 years of Christianity in our country, the church has not become a credible witness and the faith has not become a great resource for social transformation as there is so much apathy and indifference of many Catholics to the many social ills in our country?

Why has it come to this? Perhaps, we have become proud and self-sufficient. We have become selfish and protective of our own kind. We have become individualist and more concerned about our own security and comforts. We have believed the lie that the powers-that-be has imposed upon us in order to maintain the status quo.

Ironically, yet auspiciously, it is in these desolate realities where God is sowing God’s seed and grace of God’s mission and dream for all of us. It is in these impossible cases that God is slowly birthing God’s people and kingdom just as God made possible the birth of Samson and John the Baptist despite their barren and sterile mothers. For God, our desolation and barrenness are less as a curse than as a preparation for something special.

But we gotta believe, trust and hope. We gotta have faith in seeing God working and walking with us in the barren areas of our lives. We need to go beyond and cease focusing on own enclosed security, comfort and agenda. We need to accept God’s invitation to transform us in God’s grace so we can be born again to become forerunners of Jesus.

Like Samson and John the Baptist, each of us has been called to be a forerunner of Jesus, to prepare the way for the growing and fulfillment of the mission of God’s kingdom that Jesus has inaugurated. We are forerunners of Jesus by the witness of our lives and courageous proclamation so that the gospel of Jesus can continue to transform other people’s lives, especially those who have not yet had the experience of knowing him.

The Christmas story continues … Abangan ang susunod na kabanata, bukas! (watch out for the next chapter tomorrow). The stage is set for the next, and most important annunciation, the annunciation of Mary.

We will hear about this tomorrow.

 

Here is the schedule of Simbang Gabi at the Baclaran Shrine (Philippine Time). All Simbang Gabi masses at the shrine, both evening and early morning, are streamed live. Click this link to watch and listen to the Simbang Gabi at the shrine.

simbang-gabi-2018

 

1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT: SALVATION IS NOW!

end

HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!

Perhaps you think I am getting confused about time. This is not January 1 nor is it the lunar new year or the beginning of the Muslim year. But this is the beginning of a new year for the Catholic Church.

Last week we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King and the last Sunday of the outgoing Church year. Today is the First Sunday in Advent and the beginning of a new Church year. It is also the beginning of a new cycle of prayers and Scripture readings, Cycle C.

Advent comes from the Latin adventus which is a translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming. This is reflected in our readings for this first Sunday of Advent.

The First Reading and the Gospel both talk about a time when the Lord comes—for justice. The First Reading from the prophet Jeremiah proclaims;

In those days Judah shall be safe 
and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; 
this is what they shall call her: 
“The LORD our justice.”

In the Gospel, Jesus warns people not to be overcome with the pleasures and anxieties of the world but to be ready for his coming. In his second coming Jesus will set things right, and ransom those who “can stand up straight and stand secure before the Son of Man. 

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy 
from carousing and drunkenness 
and the anxieties of daily life, 
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times 
and pray that you have the strength 
to escape the tribulations that are imminent 
and to stand before the Son of Man.h.

In order that we may be ready for Christ at his second coming, St. Paul in the Second Reading, exhorts us: 

Brothers and sisters:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you, 
so as to strengthen your hearts, 
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father 
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.

The texts for this first Sunday of Advent are warning about the end of the world inasmuch as they are commentaries on living in the present. Jesus’ words are a wake-up call telling us to be present in any given moment and being decisive about the present. Since we do not know the hour or the day, let this be the hour, let this be the day, let this be the time that we live and die. This day, this moment, this life, is the time to bear fruit. Thus, the essence of Advent spirit is readiness for action: watchfulness for every opening, and willingness to risk everything for freedom and a new beginning.  We should all work and capture every opportunity for the elimination of disease, poverty, injustice and death itself although this will only be fully realized at the second coming of Jesus Christ.  

An appropriate phrase that captures the Advent spirit is carpe diem. Carpe diem is a Latin aphorism, usually translated “seize the day”, taken from book 1 of the Roman poet Horace’s work Odes, written 23 years before Christ. The phrase is part of the longer carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, which can be translated as “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow (the future)”. The ode says that the future is unforeseen and that one should not leave to chance future happenings, but rather one should do all one can today to make one’s future better.  [1]

In our world today we see a lot of suffering and disease, injustice, poverty and war.  Our nation is in darkness, we are in a crisis.  The temptation is to sulk into the present and linger in our frustrations, anger, despair, anxieties.  Worst is to be passive and thus justify the greed, lust, pride around us.  So we no longer condemn the evil around us and no longer appreciate the beauty and blessings around us.  We no longer hope, no longer wait, no longer expect. We’ve stop living and dreaming.   

Advent seeks to awaken us from our weakening spirit, passive attitude and fatalistic mindset. Advent seeks to instills in us defiant hope, transformative attitude and patient confidence in God’s action. Advent reminds us that we can look forward from our darkness to the fact that God’s Light will always overcome the darkness of the world (Isaiah 9, 1 – 7).  We just have to learn how to wait for God’s grace, long for Jesus’ power and actively prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of the Messiah.

 


 

[1] Carpe Diem, Wikipedia, accessed 1/12/2018 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carpe_diem

SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING: THE TENSION OF CHRISTIAN LIFE

On this last Sunday of the Liturgical Year, the church celebrates all over the world the Feast of Christ the King. It was Pope Pius XI who instituted the feast in 1925. The Pope’s intention was to set Christ’s reign against totalitarian ideologies in the ‘Thirties. The Feast has become a reminder and counter-symbol to the totalitarian governments of Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin.  Today, more than ever, we need to celebrate and proclaim Christ as King amidst the rise of strongman and authoritarian rulers in many parts of the world.

In any era of history, kingship is always associated with power, prestige, and wealth. In proclaiming Jesus Christ as king, the church presents the kingship of Jesus and the kingdom he inaugurated as diametrically opposite to having power, wealth and influence. Jesus kingship is all about sacrifice, humility and service.

Jesus’ anti-king of earthly nature is reflected in our readings today.  The second reading, for example, proclaims that Jesus kingship is borne out of his suffering and death for our sakes

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,
who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father,

The Gospel presents Christ the King on trial who is about to suffer and die. As we all know, the Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to be God, and they wanted him to die by the most shameful and painful death, Roman execution.  Hence, they brought Jesus before Pilate the Roman governor and accused Jesus of causing sedition against the Roman Empire and Caesar.  “We found this man inciting our people to revolt, opposing payment of the tribute to Caesar, and claiming to be Christ, a king” (Lk 23:2).  Today’s Gospel presents the first part of the trial conducted by Pilate who questions Jesus about his kingship.  In his dialogue with Pilate, Jesus implies that Pilate does not understand the spiritual or transcendent nature of Jesus’ kingship (“My Kingdom does not belong to this world”).  Jesus admits that he is a king but declares that his Kingdom is not of this world.  Neither his present nor his future reign operates according to the world’s criteria of power and dominance.  Jesus’ Kingdom, the reign of God, is based on the beatitudes, and he rules through loving service rather than through domination.  His authority is rooted in truth, not in physical force.

Pilate knew that Jesus was not guilty but chose political expediency over truth. In the end, it was Pilate who was in trial. And history judged him harshly.  Jesus did not succumb to the mockery of Pilate and the Jews but at a high cost–his suffering and death on the cross.

Today as we celebrate Jesus as king, we are reminded of the sacrificial nature of Jesus as king and the radical social demands of belonging to his kingdom. If, indeed, we honor Jesus as king, we need to follow Jesus in standing against any use of power, influence and wealth to dominate over others. If, indeed, we honor Jesus as king, we need to follow Jesus in standing for the truth despite the prevalence of lies and systematic cover-up of truth. If, indeed, we honor Jesus as king, we need to follow Jesus in offering even our own lives so that God’s kingdom of love, peace and justice may prosper and prevail.

To celebrate Jesus as king unveils the important and permanent reality of tension of our earthly existence. Jesus’ response to Pilate unearths this tension between this world vs. Jesus’ kingdom.

“My kingdom does not belong to this world.
If my kingdom did belong to this world,
my attendants would be fighting
to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”

As followers of Christ we live in the tension of “being in this world but not of this world.” It is the tension of becoming a member of a new community under God and being a part of the ethnicities, nations, and families whose membership does not preclude unbelievers. The whole of the New Testament makes it clear that response to the reign of God and the kingship of Jesus has everything to do with how we live out our earthly citizenship—how we work, pay, buy, sell, and vote. We believe, however, that our final destiny goes beyond this world to a whole new world radically transformed through God’s dynamic and powerful grace. It is in that sense that Jesus’ kingship “does not belong to this world” and “is not here.”

In the midst of the rising influence and power of strongman and autocratic leaders today, proclaiming Jesus as King will incur persecution, character assassination even death from instruments of the system that breeds and sustains these strongmen and autocratic leaders. As Jesus as king suffered persecution and death, we who wish to be part of his kingdom, will not be exempted from the pain and sorrow of standing up for the blossoming of his kingdom. But fear not, the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus and God the Father has bestowed upon us, will give us the strength and guide us through the dark road of navigating the tension of being in this world while living God’s kingdom already here but not yet; only to be fully realized at the end of time.

Christ, perfect ruler, source of perfect peace and justice: reign now and forever over all peoples, languages, nations; over our hearts. Amen.

33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: HOPE DEFIANT

devotee-candle-chapel

For many devotees, the shrine has become a channel for pouring out their sorrows and woes, an outlet for catharsis. They see the shrine as a very important channel where they could pour out their sufferings and agonies and turn to the Lord and Mary which in many cases is their only hope.

The plea of the thousands of devotees who come to the shrine is not just a cry for their needs but also a cry for liberation from whatever form of captivity they find themselves. In the state of captivity they find themselves, their devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help give them hope and strength not to surrender to apathy but to continue to struggle.

In this spirit of hope, devotees not only pray for what they need, but aim to be set free towards the life they profoundly aspire to attain.  They learn to embrace an active disposition–never surrendering to apathy and indifference. Led by Our Mother of Perpetual Help towards the true source of hope and light–Jesus Christ–they refuse to accept the status quo of their suffering and bondage.

In this way they develop a kind of hope in what Dutch Dominican Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx describes as a hope that is born “amidst the experiences of negativity, darkness, and injustice in which human beings cry out in protest: ‘This cannot go on!’”  Australian Redemptorist Fr. Anthony Kelly calls this hope as the refusal to see the ultimate meaning of life as simply more of the same. In this context, hope becomes bold, daring and defiant.

Thus, the experience of pouring out of one’s sorrows for many devotees is not just cathartic but empowering. In a thanksgiving letter written on August 27, 2014, Michelle Mulingbayan shares this kind of experience in the shrine:

I started coming to you last February 2014 because of a big problem that I was going through during those times with the father of my child. It has been my practise that whenever I experience that kind of feeling, I go to mass or visit a nearby church in order to pour out my sorrows, ask for help and guidance in order to lighten the pain I am experiencing … Almost every night I could not stop crying because of so the unbearable pain. For nine Wednesdays, I did not surrender, and in those times, I gradually felt peace in my heart and mind.  Every time I pray the novena, I feel the warmth of your acceptance and helping hand in order that I might overcome this trial in my life.

Today’s readings of the 33rd Sunday in ordinary time expresses this defiant attitude of hope. The readings today portrays the Biblical times in jagged and dark images in a language called “apocalyptic literature.” The first reading from Daniel, for instance, describes his times as

“A time unsurpassed in distress.”

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus painted a gloomy picture about the end times to his disciples:

The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

In the midst of these dark and gloomy times, both readings proclaimed words of hope.  At the end of the First Reading we heard God’s promise of redemption:

… the wise shall shine brightly
like the splendor of the firmament,
and those who lead the many to justice
shall be like the stars forever.

That there is hope amidst darkness is anchored on the belief that at the end of time, God will be victorious. Goodness and love will have the final say. In the Gospel, Jesus proclaimed

And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’
with great power and glory,
and then he will send out the angels
and gather his elect from the four winds,
from the end of the earth to the end of 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, toxic wastes, holes in the ozone layer, tsunami and hurricanes, shootings and killings, just to start the list. 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 grew stronger, while the vast majority of the common tao continue to suffer, became poorer and weaker every day.

It doesn’t have to be always this way. We don’t need to surrender to the captivity we find ourselves today. We need to have a hope which defies even the most destructive force in our world that in the midst of the violence, chaos, madness, and misery of our lives here on earth, there is a “beyond-this-world” that is totally opposite our world today. It is this world where God will reign.  This is what Jesus proclaimed as the Kingdom of God. This world is already growing but will reached its fullest potential through the most creative and dynamic power and grace of God in the end.

At the end of time, as the readings today proclaims, the poor, those who suffered and were persecuted will reign while those who have dominated and use their power, position and wealth to abuse others will suffer. False messiahs will be expose for who they truly are. As the First Reading says, at the last chapter of history some people will be seen as the horror and disgrace that they really are. Others will shine like the splendor of the stars. The winners in the battle of life, those who shine like stars, are those who have turned many to justice. Those who acted with courage and integrity for justice, goodness, and truth will be hated, afflicted, and even killed today but in the end they will shine like the splendor of the stars.

God will make all things new. He is known today in his promises. 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.