29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE DIVERGENT WAY OF SERVICE

Last week was a frenzied activity for thousands of wannabes vying for the top national and local positions in the county. Many trooped to the office of the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) around the country, complete with each one’s colorful gimmick  and band of loyal followers, to file their candidacies for the National and Local elections come May 2019. It look like a circus rather than an ordinary and formal submission of form for candidacy. As they say, only in the Philippines, election–its more fun in the Philippines!

And what was the buzzword of most of the candidates? You guessed it right–its service! Each candidate promised that they will serve up to the last breath of their lives. No, they are not after money, power, politics, influence or status, it’s all in the name of service. Can’t help but wonder, if it is really for service and not for the money, power and position, would you think there would be thousands filing their candidacies? I guess not.

In fairness, we cannot judge nor question the thousands of candidates’ desire to serve. There is probably a genuine desire in each of the candidates to serve. Unfortunately this genuine desire is tainted by the distorted and bankrupt values and standards of this world.  Moreover, their notion of service is antithetical to the notion of service that Jesus speaks of in the gospel today.

The liturgical readings for today’s 29th Sunday in ordinary time talks about service–God’s way of service, that is. The First Reading is taken from the fourth servant song of Second Isaiah: the prophet sings of one who “gives his life as an offering”.  This suffering servant would be afflicted, would suffer, and would even bear guilt. No wonder these verses from the fourth Song of the Suffering Servant is also the reading on Good Friday.  It foreshadow the fullness of the servanthood accepted by Jesus on our behalf: he gave his life for us.

In the second reading. the Letter to the Hebrews declares that we have a “great” “high” priest in Jesus who was strangely compassionate, fragile, and subject to the very trials we abhor.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned.”
(Hebrews 4:14)

In the Gospel, James and John wanted to sit alongside Jesus when he comes to his glory: “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus teaches them this lesson: “whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all” . “The Way” on which he is leading his disciples is not about earthly glory but about service, even suffering service. This way of relating to others is not the way of the world, where “those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and make their authority over them felt.” The term “lord it over” is a vivid way of describing leadership as raw power.

Jesus’ words for describing service are conveyed by Mark in the humblest words in the Greek language for lowdown menial service. The term “servant,” diakonos, literally means “the one who waits on tables.”

“Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant [dia-konos];
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave [doulos] of all.”

Jesus finally drives his point home by applying to himself the atonement language of Isaiah’s portrait of the Suffering Servant in the first reading

“For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In many ways we are like James and John and the other disciples. Just like James and John we behave as normal citizens of a world where the ordinary view of service is one who lord it over people and make their authority over them felt.

Service is not the normal way of the world. Authority, leadership, ambition is. Service is such a much spoken word but so much lacking in practice. Admit it, when you are in a position, leadership or honor, whether in government, church, business, civic organization, or non-profit organization, the normal tendency in the world is that you are not a servant. You are to be served, you are to be bestowed with honor, you are to be granted privileges. All those talk about servant-leadership, they are beautiful to the ears, but in the real world, whoever is in position, authority and power, their members and their subjects are the ones serving them.

Unless the dominant system of benefiting the poor and powerful prevails, service will remain antithetical to the Christian way of service.  To live the Christian way of service is to go against the strong tide of giving weight to power, authority and wealth in the world.

So how then can we practice service in a world that is antithetical to service? Just like the saying–to err is human, to forgive is divine–authority and leadership is human, service is divine. Service is the way of God towards us and towards God’s inner life.  Service is the relationship of God with each other in the Divine Trinity. Service, therefore, is God’s gift, God’s grace. We cannot do service, without divine grace. We cannot do service without following Jesus–the greatest example of one who came not to be served but to serve.  The cup that Jesus drank, we can drink, and the baptism with which Jesus was baptized, we were baptized, but we can only lived out true service, not on our own, but through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus.

Service is the way of life in the kingdom of God. Service is a prerequisite to entering the kingdom.  We cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we learn how to serve. When we come to God’s kingdom, only then that we can experience the fullness of service. In God’s kingdom, we will be focused on the other, serving each other, just like God.

Despite that the fullness of service will only come at the end, we can already have a foretaste of its fullness here and now, even in a hostile world. In God’s grace.

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Most Rev. Ireneo Amantillo, CSsR, DD. – First Filipino Redemptorist Bishop

The National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran mourns the death of Most Rev. Ireneo Amantillo, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Tandag. After his retirement as Bishop, he was assigned for a couple of years at the shrine.  His assignment at the shrine even though was short, was a fruitful and memorable one. Many of the shrine volunteers, staff and his own Redemptorist confreres remember him as humble, friendly and funny.  After long years of service in God’s vineyard, Amantillo succumbed to cancer and died in the hands of the Lord in the morning of October 11, 2018. He was 83.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace!

Amantillo-memoriam

When Manila Bay was in Front of the Baclaran Church

~22~22

Before World War II, the waters of Manila Bay used to come up to the refectory of the Redemptorist convent in Baclaran during high tide.  After the war it used to lap the shore along Roxas Boulevard. Now the sea is more than a kilometer away from the Church.

The name Baclaran originated from the word “baclad,” which means fishtrap. Baclad is made of rattan used to segregate fingerlings from the bigger fishes during the time when the Baclaran River and the Manila Bay were still used to breed fish. In the early years of the last century, this village was popularly known as “the place of the fishtraps”, thus, people started calling it the “bacladan”, which later became to be known, “Baclaran.” When the Redemptorists settled at Baclaran, the sea was just right at the fence of the compound which today is Roxas Boulevard. In those days, one could still see many fishing boats anchored near the seashore.  After the mass, the Fathers would usually take a dip into the clean water of Manila Bay.[1]

The Redemptorists first came to Manila in 1906. They proceeded, however, to the island of Opon near Cebu where they first settled and began their mission in the Visayas islands. In 1913, they returned to Manila and was entrusted the care of the parish of Malate. In 1931, they transferred to Baclaran. The parish of Malate was turned over to the Columban fathers.

~11

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR recalls how, in olden days, the Redemptorist and the Columbans used to walk along the shore of Manila Bay to visit each other’s convent in Baclaran and Malate. The Parish of Malate was centered around the present Malate Church which was then fronting the beach. When the Redemptorists transferred to Baclaran they were also fronting the beach. Often on cool afternoons they would take a walk to Malate along the beach, have a swim, visit the Columban Fathers who had taken over in Malate, join them for merienda and then walk home. On other days the Columbans would do the same, in reverse order of course. The result was that the two communities became close to each other and until recently were still inviting each other to celebrations in their respective areas.

The enjoyable walk along the beach, however, has now become a health hazard. The beach is a road full of crazy drivers. The sidewalk is the kingdom of street children, beggars, pickpockets, snatchers and the whole thing is wrapped in a blanket of smog and pollution. The beach is more than a kilometer away.

So much for the good old days. They call it progress.

 

 


 

[1] Fr. Sam Boland, CSsR, Redemptorists in Luzon, 19.

 

 

Easter Vigil: Living Out Our Liberation

1200px-Anastasis_at_ChoraTonight 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 liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church.

We have been used to the image of the empty tomb during Easter season. This is one of the most popular symbols of resurrection for us raised in Western Christianity. In this blog, I want to reflect on another symbol for Easter Vigil which may not be familiar to us. I want to reflect on an icon more popular in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. This is the icon of Harrowing of Hell. Although this icon is not popular 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.

The icon shows the events between Jesus’ death on the cross and 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 states:

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].

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.

What does this icon convey for us on Easter Vigil? Christ never rises alone; he brings the rest of us. Resurrection is not just Christ’s but also ours. This is 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.

Indeed, Jesus wants to raise us into new life but maybe the problem is we don’t want to be raised up. Or we allow people to continue to pull us down to the pit of hell for their own interests. 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 can remain dead. We have chosen this part—to remain in hell and remain dead. The saddest thing is we have become comfortable in hell. We have become used to hell.

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 souls from 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.

This Easter, we should not just look up to Jesus and proclaim that he has risen. On Easter, we 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 solemn truth in the Easter Vigil through the renewal of our baptism.

So now, let us rise up and go, live out our liberation!

Happy Easter to you all!

Two works of art that Catholics should ponder this Holy Week — Beauty of Catholicism

“Guido Reni and Gerard Manley Hopkins both see beyond suffering to the promise of the Resurrection” From Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith over at the Catholic Herald UK. Read the article
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at http://www.pontifex.university Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon for the […]

via Two works of art that Catholics should ponder this Holy Week — Beauty of Catholicism