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.

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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.