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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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’.

5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: GREATER CALLING DESPITE UNWORTHINESS

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Life is about discovering who we truly are. To know who we truly are, we need to discover our greater calling. Life is not just about waking up every day, eating, working and doing our daily chores. Beyond our daily struggles and frustrations, there is a far more meaningful life that we can experience but only if we are able to take a risk. When we are able to take risk, we discover the awesome goodness of divine power. In the presence of divine power we become aware of our unworthiness. Despite our unworthiness, we are called to greatness in the loving service of God and others.

This is the theme of our readings for today’s 5th Sunday in ordinary time. This is the story of three of the greatest characters in the Bible—the prophet Isaiah, and the apostles Paul and Peter.

Each of these three men experienced God’s abundant goodness and grace. In the presence of the divine goodness, all three felt a profound unworthiness.

In the First Reading, Isaiah exultantly receives a vision of heaven itself. The Lord is seated on a high and lofty throne and the Seraphim angel choir is crying out, “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!”*

In the face of this heavenly vision, Isaiah reacts with shame! He says,

Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!

In response an angel swoops down with a burning coal and begins to cleanse his lips!!!! He is doomed, alright, but doomed to be made clean through suffering, to be made able to speak of God.

In the Second Reading. St. Paul says that Christ appeared to him last of all, as to one born abnormally,

“For I am the least of the apostles,
not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God.”

Paul persecuted the Church but then, because of God’s grace, he became a great minister of Christ.

In the Gospel Jesus tells Peter James and John to fish in the deep water (where they had been fishing and fishing and fishing all night but caught nothing). Without warning their nets become bloated with fishes that their nets were tearing. At the sight of the abundant catch, Peter knelt before Jesus and cried out,

“Depart from me, Lord,
for I am a sinful man.”

What followed that sense of unworthiness was a divine assurance but the biggest surprise of all was God’s commission.

One of the seraphim that flew to Isaiah touches him with an ember and assures him that his wickedness is purged. Then the future prophet hears the commissioning voice of the Lord saying,

“Whom shall I send?
Who will go for us?”

Isaiah freely said in reply,

“Here I am, send me!”

For his part, Paul found himself drawn into a mission of surprising fruitfulness. When he alludes to this mission as he writes to the Corinthians, he is compelled to say,

“But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.
Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them;
not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.”

The amazed and kneeling Peter hears Jesus address him,

“Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”

When we experience God’s abundant grace we become suddenly aware of our unworthiness. Unworthiness here does not mean we are worthless. In the face of God’s goodness, however, we truly become aware of our place in the universal scheme of things. Experience of God lets us understand that we are far, far less than God. This is the same attitude that we express in the part of the mass when we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” We confess to the Lord our unworthiness right before we’re about to let God’s awesome grace into our mortal bodies.

Nevertheless, God does not hold our inadequacies against us. It is, however, important for us to truly accept our unworthiness. For the moment we recognize our inadequacy, our sin, our smallness before the greatness of the transcendent God, we are capable of truly being called out of ourselves. When God is heard to say, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah responds, “Here I am. Send me.” He is empowered, not paralyzed.

Lord give us your worthiness instead of our unworthiness; make us deeper than our doubts. Let us fall on our knees. as did Simon Peter. Just as you did with Paul, give us your grace to overcome the chasm that lies between who we are and whomever you might call us to be. So together with Isaiah, we can say, “Here I am; send me!”

November Month of Vocation: Threats and Challenges to Vocation Today

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November is a special month in the shrine for showcasing vocation. During this month, every Wednesday there is a sharing and testimonials about the different vocation in our church, e.g., religious sisters, priests, brothers and lay vocation. There is also an ongoing photo exhibit by different religious congregations and lay associations.

The shrine has actively promoted vocations through these years. It has a vocation office and a full-time Redemptorist and lay vocation promoter who coordinates all vocation promotion activities in the shrine. The shrine promotes all vocation, not just vocation to religious life. The profound truth is that we are all called by God. Each of us has his/her particular special calling by God. Each vocation is unique.

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Vocation which literally means calling, is a reality deeply embedded in our lives. We all have this inner burning itch of what we would like to become someday. Depending on what our unique God-given talents and ability are, we pursue our dream, for example, to become an engineer, a doctor, a teacher, a photographer, a dancer, etc., someday. In our Christian framework, however, vocation is not only an ambition or a career that we want to pursue in the future. Vocation is God’s calling to live life to the fullest that God has planted in our hearts. To live life to the fullest is in no way opposed to developing our talents and pursuing our creative path. As our Lord Jesus have said, however, we can only achieve the highest fulfillment of ourselves, our gifts and talents if we do not keep it to ourselves but to develop and share them 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.

The socio-economic and political milieu of the world today may be more receptive to the drive for ambition and power. Thus, it poses some imminent threats and tough challenges to living out the Christian perspective of vocation. We shall focus on two of these major threats and challenges.

One of the biggest threat to vocation today is globalization and the dominant system of neo-liberal capitalism. Because of globalization, many young people chooses professions which will provide the quickest job in a globalized economy. Because of the poverty that was exacerbated by globalization, many young people have no choice but to take professions that will get them easy jobs both here and abroad, for example, nursing, seaman, caregiver, domestic helper, laborers; vocational and technical courses like welding, mechanics, computer technician, etc. For easy landing in local jobs, topping the list of professions today are: call center, medical transcriptionists, etc.

It is a sad reality, indeed, that for many of our young people in our country today, the main motivation for choosing one’s vocation is getting out of the vicious cycle of poverty. Never mind if this is what they truly want and aspire, the reality is, many young people dream of freeing their family from the shackles of poverty. Thus, many are in their present profession, even though they are not happy or something inside of them is saying that this is not the way they would wish to become someday. The economic plight has stifled their creativity and worst of all the very nature of what they want to become.

Another threat to the living out of the Christian vocation 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. Individualism also endangers tradition and institution. That is why there is a massive mistrust in most of the traditional institutions and authority. This is particularly strong amongst young people where they have shown less and less knowledge about their nation’s heroes. And because of the loss of credibility and authenticity of leaders and those in authority, more and more young people have shown reluctance to follow anyone, let alone look up to an idol or a model.

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 threats and challenges, among other factors, have led to less and less young people entering priesthood and religious life. Probably church and religious leaders have not live enough what they preach. Many have been turned off by the scandals in the church–sexual and material. More significantly, church and religious may have not always succeeded in communicating the real reasons of their consecration and ministry, and in showing how their way of life and spirituality can respond to the needs of the present generation especially the young.

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.

Mary’s life is a testimony to the truth that our deepest vocation is to live according to a greater cause other than ourselves. Life’s deepest calling is to enter into God’s plan and surrender to the will of God. “I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary to the angel, “may it happen to me as you have said” (Lk 1: 38). Mary’s response to God’s invitation was not a blind submission but a free and deliberate giving of herself to a higher purpose, that is, to be the mother of the Son of God made man. In responding to God’s invitation, she achieved perfect happiness and humanity.

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If you want to discover and discern more the meaning of your true vocation in life, come and drop by at our Vocation office. You may also attend the regular search-in, holy hour and vocation direction activities at the shrine. For more information, visit our website.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help, pray that we may continue to discover, respond and live out God’s calling in our lives.