13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: A HIGHER CALLING

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Photo by Mathew Thomas from Pexels

Life is a calling. We are not just born in this world to exist but to live with a purpose, a mission, a calling. There is a word–vocation–which is usually associated with religious vocation but can be applied to all. Vocation comes from the Latin word, vocare, to call. Everybody has a vocation.

Vocation is not only an ambition or a career that we want to pursue in the future. Vocation is a higher calling than ambition or a career. We have seen this in the lives of great people, saints and heroes. They learned to get out of their ordinary lives in response to a higher and more noble cause, a greater good other than their own personal agenda. The source of the call is either God, or country, or justice or a morally right cause which led them to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

The readings for today’s 13th Sunday in ordinary time are stories of God’s calling certain individuals to go beyond their ordinary existence.

In the First Reading, Elisha is called by the Lord to be the helper and successor of the prophet Elijah. Elisha, however, wanted to kiss his mother and father goodbye first. The prophet Elijah challenged Elisha’s playing for time. In response, Elisha kills all his family’s oxen; then he uses their yokes for firewood to roast the oxen, and he gives the flesh to his servants to eat. Elisha made sure that he can’t go home now. How could he, after what he did to the family oxen and their yokes?

In the Gospel, Jesus called many people along the way to follow him but challenged them to transcend their ordinary plans and ambitions:

To another he said, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead.
But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
And another said, “I will follow you, Lord,
but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”
To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Answering God’s call is in no way contrary to developing our talents and pursuing our creative path. But the highest fulfillment of our gifts and talents is not for ourselves but  for the love of God, our neighbor and ourselves. In other words, if we wish to fulfill our vocation as Christians we must all become selfless servants and lovers. Whenever we are inclined to seek for ourselves wealth, prestige, popularity, and position, it is no longer about vocation but ambition and power.

It is a sad reality that for many of our young people in our country today, the main aspiration is getting out of the vicious cycle of poverty. Many young people, especially in a third world country like the Philippines, dream of freeing their family from the shackles of poverty even if this would mean taking a path that is not what they truly want and aspire. Thus, many in their present work or profession are not happy or something inside of them is saying that this is not the way they would wish to become someday but they have no choice because they need to survive. The economic plight has stifled their creativity and worst of all the very nature of what they want to become.

Another big factor that may inhibit us from pursuing a higher calling is the postmodern culture. Postmodernism has created a “me” society where the interests of the individual takes precedence over the interests of the country or social group or religion. The autonomous individual becomes the measure of all things. The focus is on oneself, one’s own personal development, apart from one’s community and society.

In a world which apparently has no one to follow, it has become tougher to offer a way of life anchored on following Christ. In this age where traditional sources of meaning are being questioned by today’s generation, the very purpose of vocation has become harder to live out and has stirred some inner confusion and emptiness.

These threat and challenges should not, however, deter us from discovering our deepest calling, pursuing our noblest aspirations and achieving our fullest human maturity. The material, commercial and individualist milieu does not invalidate nor diminish the integrity of vocation as living life to the fullest in a life of service and sacrifice.

In a globalized world, the biggest challenge is to continue to proclaim the liberating Gospel which gives us a meaningful way to set people free from the slavery to money, power and fame. In a highly individualized world, the biggest challenge is to continue to proclaim that only in Jesus Christ can we be true individuals, fully human and fully alive. Living out the true meaning of vocation is not to fulfill our calling in isolation but in communion with others and with God.

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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.

 

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’.

Holy Monday: Preparing for Jesus’ Death

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Following Jesus’ grand arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus withdrew from the crowd and spent Sunday night quietly in the house of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus at Bethany, the village at the foot of Mount Olives. Jesus sensing his impending suffering and death, spent the last moments of his life in companionship with his friends. Mary, Martha and Lazarus gladly received Him in their house and offered Him and his disciples something to eat. 

True to character, Martha is the active hostess. Mary,  on the other hand, brings in a jar of an expensive perfumed ointment filling the house with its fragrance. Mary anointed Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair. 

Jesus appreciated the tremendous love behind Mary’s action and saw it as a symbolical anointing for his burial. Dying as a common criminal, Jesus would normally not have been anointed. (And, in fact, he was not anointed after his burial; when the women went to do the act on Sunday morning, Jesus was already risen.)

Following this tradition, Catholic dioceses all over the world, gather together with all the priest and the bishop at a Mass called the Chrism Mass. The bishop consecrates the sacred oils to be used in the sacraments of Baptism, Anointing, and Holy Orders. Each parish receives its annual supply of these oils at the Chrism Mass, which in some dioceses is celebrated on the Monday of Holy Week.

A few days later, Jesus will do the same loving service for his disciples, washing their feet before the last supper. Up to the very end of his life, Jesus, showed that we can find the greatest meaning of our lives through servanthood. The pinnacle of this servanthood is Jesus’ giving his own life on the cross.

As we begin Holy Week, we are called to prepare for the commemoration of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus.  We are not here this week just to be mere spectators. We are to be part of the work, which the Paschal Mystery of Jesus inaugurated.  Like Mary, we can be part of Jesus’ passing over from death to new life by becoming God’s servant. We, too, are to be servants, ready, if necessary, to suffer as Jesus did for the sake of our brothers and sisters.