July 23. On the Pilgrim’s Path, First of Six Reflections

To Pray on and Ponder:  Life as a Pilgrimage

Id quod volo (That which I desire most . . .) To encounter my Provident God calling me to a life as a journey, whose path, thrust and end is my coming home to God himself.

“Pilgrimage” is a good metaphor for life. Ignatius of Loyola himself who is the focus of this and the next several reflections, is one who liked to refer to himself as “the Pilgrim.” This reflects how he sees his life ad fundamentally a journey towards the Provident God, i.e., his Provident God. By way of an introduction to our five-part reflection on the Sacred Spaces in Ignatius’ Life, allow me to reflect on the basic elements of pilgrimage. With this, I invite us all to see our lives as pilgrimage.

St. Paul describes the dynamic of pilgrimage in the 20th chapter of the Book of Acts. “As you see I am on my way. . . compelled by the Spirit, and not knowing what will happen to me . . . except that the Holy Spirit has been warning me of chains and hardships that await me. I put no value on my life, if only I can finish the race and complete the service to which I have been assigned by the Lord Jesus, bearing witness to the gospel of God’s grace.”

From St. Paul’s words, we draw several points about pilgrimage. I invite you to notice one or other element here that attract(s) you or repel(s) you. First, pilgrimage is a journey on the way to a destination which only God knows. As pilgrims we do have a sense of movement towards some goal or destination, yet we really know that it is God who appoints where we will be ultimately led. Second, pilgrimage is a journey whose thrust is governed by the Spirit and whose path and purpose remain in the realm of mystery. Only gradually do we sense this second point. Not only does God mark out our destination, even the path and purpose of our journey remain in God’s mystery. We realize that it is God who orders our steps and guarantees our safe and glorious arrival at our appointed destination. Because of these first two points, much can be said about a fundamental disposition asked of pilgrims: a disposition of surrender and disponibility. We can lay out the best plans and strategies; we can map out the best game plans. Ultimately though it is “God’s lesson plan” which will prevail.

Third, pilgrimage is a journey marked by hardship and trial. Especially because the one we seek to follow pursued a path that led him to the foot of the cross, our own journey will necessarily be marked by the same shadow of the cross. This mark is mark of authenticity. This mark is a way of purification. This mark is God’s way of drawing from our hearts genuine self-sacrificing love which is the mark of God’s own brand of loving. Finally, pilgrimage is a journey that is assured of victory–for its way and end are ordained by the Provident God. Here we are taught that in matters of spiritual journey, we cannot apply the usual norms of success that the world uses. In matters of spiritual journey, progress and fruitfulness are never measured in terms of achievement, but in terms of the ways in which we are challenged to love more and be more.

As we begin this five part journey, it may be good to take stock of where you are in your own life’s journey. In what way(s) are you able to visualize your life as pilgrimage? Have you been called and sent to leave your familiar ground to venture forth into a foreign land of promise, much like Yahweh bid Abraham and Sarah to go (cf. Genesis 12, 1-9)? Have you been suddenly thrust into uncomfortable freedom from years of slavery, sent wandering into the desert for more years of peril and hunger and drought, with God constantly assuring them of providence, yet many times they are tempted to prefer past slavery over a freedom that demands their radical and complete trust in God (Exodus 13, 17-22)? Or perhaps we are like the Baptist’s disciples, now referred to become Jesus’ own, where desire meets with desire as the Lord asks: “What do you seek?” and invites “Come and See!”

However your journey is at this point, just take notice, reflect, bring to a heartfelt conversation with God, and hopefully God will awaken us into walking his walk and treading his path with trust and surrender and a generous share of adventure. God Bless!

July 23, 2014  Leave a comment

July 22. Feast of Mary Magdalene: From Weeping to Witnessing

To Pray on and Ponder:  John 20, 1-2.11-18.

Id quod volo:  Profound appreciation and gratitude for the witness of love that Mary Magdalene has shown us, a saint who must have experienced God’s unconditional love and mercy deeply so as to awaken to her profound identity as the Risen Lord’s first witness and apostle.

The phrase “earthen vessel” is a good way to capture the mark of authenticity in the call and journey of an apostle. An apostle is often called out of darkness, a past life of sinfulness, at times even of oblivion. How many of us ministers and leaders of the Church look back to a past and reflect on where could our lives have led were we not called into service by our Lord? The usual trajectory of a genuine call is thus, the three phase journey of “conversion–> commitment–> communion.” “Even while we were yet sinners,” as St. Paul describes (and recalls to be his personal experience as well!) God intervenes in our lives and calls us out of our dark past, engaging us in a relationship of love, unconditional, merciful, healing. God receives us and entrusts us with his flock despite all the reasons that suggest otherwise.

God awakens us into the core goodness in our person and the gift that we are that awaits self-offering to others and to the Church. God blesses us with a multitude of gifts that elevate us from being simply “sinner, forgiven” to “sinner, called to be companion and collaborator in the vineyard.”

Mary Magdalene’s journey is no different. She is described to be one from whom many demons were expelled. And called to be disciple among others, she was one who walked with Christ way up to the foot of the cross, witnessing Jesus’ suffering up to the end. She walked back to the tomb mindful that she needed to find to corpse to complete its cleaning and to prepare it for a burial more proper to the stature of his Lord and Master. But alas she could not find the body. Ironically, Mary’s yet immature love fixated her into her desire to see Jesus’ dead body that she was blinded and failed to recognize Christ in his Glorious and Risen state. Blinded at least until Jesus calms her and calls her by her name: “Mary!” In an instant, now grounded in her deep sense of identity, as one called by God, Mary proclaims her shining witness: “Rabbouni!” and acknowledges the Risen Lord’s place as the Teacher of her life.

The one detail that remains curious to me is the Risen Lord’s proviso that Mary must not touch him just yet. (I believe this is the biblical strand from which Jose Rizal got his “Noli Me Tangere” phrase used for his celebrated novel). But this detail somehow reminds me of this long intermediate phase of purification that prepares for fuller commitment and communion after a call initiates us into a life of conversion and discipleship. The one initial call is never enough to magically transform us. We realize that a history of sinful choices has taken some toll on our character and quite a bit of undoing needs to happen this time with God’s grace reordering the chaos of our lives.  For the disciple this may seem like the uphill challenge of continuing conversion, but perhaps for a Creator, this is the long stretch of moulding, and shaping, of love preparing the beloved and teaching him or her how to love the way God loves. This can only end up in genuine communion of the Lover with the Beloved.

As for Mary Magdalene, she was given the privileged role of becoming the first witness to other witnesses. She was the one sent by the Risen Lord to announce to others that he is risen, and that he intends to show himself to the rest of the disciples to console them and call them to witness as well.

Now for some points to ponder:  As one called to witness to God’s presence in your life, how have you experienced these “phases” in your own journey: conversion –> commitment –> communion? Recall key moments when the Lord seemed to have revealed to you your deepest identity before God. What have become part of that identity that you cherish and joyfully embraced? What do you sense resistance as of yet? How have you found yourself giving witness before others of the transforming presence of the Lord in your life? God Bless!

July 22, 2014  Leave a comment

July 21. A Postscript Reflection While We Still Have the Weeds In Our Midst

To Pray on and Ponder:  Matthew 13, 24-43 (Sunday Gospel, June 20)

Id quod volo: To notice and align with the Spirit of Light at work, drawing out the good and strengthening the fibre of holiness in our hearts and our characters as we continue to live in situations of ambiguity and grey, and with hearts afflicted with ambivalence and mixed motivations.

Most homilies and reflections I read on yesterday’s Sunday Gospel focused on the humility and self-restraint we are invited to as we face the reality of “weeds” in our lives. We take notice of the weeds, and follow the Lord’s counsel in their regard–allow them to grow with the wheat, because if we pull them out at this stage, we might hurt the wheat as well, and then deal with them at harvest time, pulling them away to be burned while we keep the wheat in our barns.

It may be good though by way of a postscript to continue our reflection about what we can do, while we still have the weeds in our midst. We are not after all left paralyzed with evil influence lurking within us or around us, ready to strike us with its venom anytime we seem vulnerable to its vicious attack. In the spirit of the Exultet’s “O Happy Fault” and St. Paul’s “God drawing out good in all” we propose three ways by which our heightened awareness of the sinfulness in our lives can make us stronger followers of God.

First, the humility that “weeds consciousness” can bring us to embrace reminds us time and again that the challenge of holiness is not within our effort to achieve, rather, it is a work of grace that we need to constantly open ourselves to, surrender to God’s light and love and receive totally as gift from the Creator who continues to mould us and shape us with all things that can possible break and make us. “Humility” comes from the word “humus” which means “soil” or “earth.” I guess this indicates that only when we get real and know who we really are, small creatures fashioned from the earth,  can we truly become good medium for the seeds to grow. When we allow our egos to bloat and unmindfully entertain unrealistic images of self on account of the weeds, images that tend to discount the presence of God in our lives, we begin to have distorted thoughts of not needing God’s loving care in our lives. “Weeds” can be that “thorn in the flesh” which makes us feel constantly on guard, constantly in need of God’s grace, constantly coming home to God to ask forgiveness, healing and strength with the faith of the centurion: “I am not worthy to have you enter my roof, but please, please say the Word and my soul shall be healed.”

Second, weeds, as they continue to engage us may be threatening and destructive of our moral fiber, but they also help us gain insight into the workings of evil in our hearts and in our world. Their constant activity in our consciousness and in people around us help us learn wily patterns and strategies of the “enemy of human nature” as the Jesuit founder Ignatius of Loyola would call the evil one. Ignatius suggests ways in uncovering these strategies: first, we always have to face them squarely and respond to their temptations with resolve, never leave ourselves wishy-washy about our responses, never pretending to simply ignore them but really acting against these temptations as soon as we are clear that they are indeed temptations; second, we always have to bring them to light, never keep them secret in the dark where they gain power; third, that we must also be mindful how we are weak in relation to these evil patterns. Ignatius says, the evil spirit is like a military general who constantly examines our fortification so it may locate weak spots which it will then pound relentlessly until we fall. And so it is important to be acutely self-aware especially of these weak points and that we regularly ask God for reinforcements in these weak points.

Third, “weeds” also help us by leading us to reflect back on the journey we have trekked so far, and see with much faith and gratitude how God has taken good care of us, even in those dark spaces when evil seemed strong and powerful, God has seen us through. We look back and see how even when we seemed downtrodden, God has continually sent people and experiences that sustained us, made us survive, brought out resilience and character from within us even, helped us keep finding the right path when we seemed lost. Alas, that awareness of our “weedfulness” help us become mindful as well of all the gifts that God throws at us as those saving floats thrown at people who fall into stormy waters. Sometimes in God’s wisdom, why even the weeds themselves become gifts to us in that their happening in our lives can be the occasion of our genuine conversion and growth as children of the light. No, I don’t say God himself threw those weeds at us. The Gospel assures us God only planted good seed and the weeds came from the enemy. But yes, there is no stopping God, God is after all the Creator of all things and even the weeds of the enemy he can transform into wonderful instruments of the light. Needless to say, this whole process also strengthens our capacity to discern wheat among the weeds and to help us exercise prudence, courage and good judgment when the time of reckoning is already upon us and the Lord asks us to make the hard choices.

And so we pause and ponder:  Where in your life do you sense “weeds” to be growing and constantly injecting life-threatening venom? How do you notice God helping you find the path to light, to growth, to love as you bring yourself to greater mindfulness, humility and great need for God’s light and love amidst these weeds? Where do you sense have you felt deeply graced that even the weeds have become gifts of God to you, drawing strength and character, making you the instrument that you are in ministry, sealing a quite intimate bond between you and the Creator? God Bless!

July 21, 2014  Leave a comment

July 4. Averting an Impending Famine

To Pray on and Ponder:  Amos 8, 4-6.9-12; Matthew 9, 9-13.

Id quod volo: To awaken to how essential to our life God’s Word is, come to a firmer resolve to embrace God’s Word in a life of loving service and justice.

I was taken aback when I read the warning that Amos proclaimed in the name of God against corrupt business folk whose usual practice includes cheating and oppression of the poor as well as slavery. The prophet Amos warned that a famine will occur in the land–but “not a famine of bread or thirst of water, but for hearing the word of the Lord.”

I was trying to imagine such a famine, and I felt the bleakness and horror of the scenario. What came to mind was a scenario where not only was the Word of God preached, heard but resisted; not only was the Word of God not preached; but that people didn’t even care, people were apathetic on the matter of the Word of God even proclaimed or heard. There was no concern at all that God’s presence be felt, talked about or even acknowledged.

It was pretty much like the very spiritual muscle of humankind gone into atrophy. No desire at all was oriented towards anything Divine or transcendent, and perhaps no desire even for going out of the self to reach out to another in compassion, love or service. This is too dark and too sad. Yet it seems very possible for an increasingly “selfie” culture we are sustaining for ourselves.

And so the Gospel of St. Matthew shines forth as genuine “good news” for me, for us! Here was a hated tax collector working in his booth, assessing people’s money and exacting taxes which takes more from the people than was due. That he was assessing taxes from his countrymen for the foreign rulers was hateful enough, but he had to cheat on them even.

Yet when Jesus came and interrupted Matthew (Levi) and called him, somehow God’s Word worked its power quite instantly!  The drawing power of Jesus’ Word must have met with the deep desire in Matthew’s heart that Matthew responded with great dispatch.  Matthew stood up, left everything and followed Christ. How is this possible? How can human hearts quicken with one word from God? How might we avert a crisis called “famine of the hearing of God’s Word? Let me propose three ways:

First, we need to foster hearts that are genuinely hungry for God’s Word and are not wont to believe their hearts can be content by anything less. We may deceive ourselves into thinking that other creaturely goods are what we crave for and desire, and what will give our hearts contentment. We don’t even pause to think why is it that when we get something we craved for, a new craving appears and begins for us a new quest.

Second, we need to look beyond ourselves as the destination of the gifts we receive. In fact gifts come to us not only for ourselves but for helping others grow and strengthen in their life and faith.

Finally, we need to foster grateful hearts so that we learn to acknowledge the giftedness of life and discover the ways God has been thoughtful and provident even to the most minute details of our real needs for life and growth. Gratitude helps us awaken to God’s gracious presence in our lives and helps us fix our gaze less on the gifts and more on the Giver of these gifts.

Jesus’ Word and call must have awakened in Matthew a sense of how his fraudulent wealth and opulent lifestyle will never fill his human heart with that proverbial “pearl of great price, that one thing necessary” that spells our heart’s delight. (I wish the same effect will grow on our corrupt politicians’ hearts!).

We pray that our remaining desire for God’s Word may grow like embers blown constantly by the Spirit’s breath, that gentle breeze which can blow our desires into a fiery and holy blaze. God Bless!

 

 

July 4, 2014  Leave a comment

June 29. Solemn Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Living in the Flow of Communion and Tradition.

To Pray on and Ponder:  Acts 12, 1-11; 2 Timothy 4, 6-8.17-18;  Matthew 16, 13-19

Id quod volo: A heartfelt appreciation for the faith I live and embrace as a lived and living Tradition that allows me to draw from the vast riches of other people’s spirituality–genuine faith proclaimed and lived, at times died for, and now calling me to live mine, responsibly and intentionally, faithfully and zealously so others after me may also receive the faith with much authenticity and life.

Why am I here presiding at mass with you in this lovely family camp? I stumble for answers in many ways. The most simple answer the comes to mind first is that this is an act of obedience to my younger sister Jocelyn who has been my unofficial agent in connecting me with Christian communities here in Canada every time I get a chance to visit. The next answer is I am able to celebrate the Eucharist with you because I received permission from your Archdiocese, and the same permission allows me to minister to you as I had been so missioned in April 1997 when the good old Jaime Cardinal Sin, then Archbishop of Manila (he has since gone to heaven!) laid his hands on me and placed holy oils on my hands to consecrate me a priest. If that were not enough, more than a hundred and twenty priests, mostly Jesuits walked in a long queue before me and my eight ordination batch mates to lay their hands on us as if to add in their bit of priestly holiness with the Cardinal’s priesthood being “handed down” to us–in a sort of river flow of consecration grace, priest-to-priest. After that ritual, people would queue before us to receive as well “fresh” blessing from our hands. Since then till now, people write, text or call to ask for our prayers and blessings as though we have become this gateway of God’s good providence despite our own lacks and sinfulness.

And now, this river flow of grace and blessing continues and with a special depth of meaning as we celebrate in this Sunday’s mass, the Solemn Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. In Rome, Pope Francis will install twenty-seven new Archbishops, two of them for two Philippine Archdioceses–Zamboanga (Bp. Romulo dela Cruz) and Nueva Segovia (Mons. Marlo Peralta). Popes have consecrated cardinals in consistories and installed archbishops in Solemnities of Peter and Paul through the years, possibly centuries. I reflect with awe on the continuing line of tradition that binds me with Cardinal Sin and he with the priest who baptized and confirmed him, the bishop who ordained him, the Popes who consecrated him and created a Cardinal in him, and all these presiding prelates connected themselves way up to St. Peter, the Rock on whom Christ built his Church. And I’d like to think as well that the Ignatian tradition I live and follow draws very much from the spirit of St. Paul, the one exemplary missionary apostle of the Word whose word and apostolic witness formed much of the Ignatian spirit.

When we celebrate mass today, I invite you to join me in thinking of ourselves and our families and church communities as tiny branches of that one big vine that is Christ. Think of ourselves as small living stones that build on each other to form the living Temple of Christ’s Spirit whose cornerstone is Christ himself and on whom Peter the Rock builds our foundation.

Everytime we gather to reflect on God’s Word, every time we gather to break bread, every time we consciously nurture our baptismal gifts so every husband, wife and child grows robust in the faith that he or she lives, we nourish the vine and make it grow to reach others. How else can we learn to love and serve and give praise. Everytime we help others who are lost find their way, every time we forgive those who wrong us and are forgiven for our own wrongs, every time we help each other lick a vice and form good virtue and character, we help strengthen Christ’s temple. Everytime we make time to study God’s Word and share it among ourselves and our families in ways in which God’s Word becomes the foundation of our day to day lives, we add a little more firmness and stability in the building of God’s temple, the better to build on it as more generations come and go.

Not only does Sacred Tradition build the Body on Christ for us, with us, in us, we ourselves become receivers and transmitters of that tradition as Christ’s Spirit fills our hearts and directs our lives. Sacred Tradition transmits the faith to others through us as well, more or less in the measure we allow God to use us in the enterprise, even despite and sometimes through our sinful selves. We ask that the Spirit render us more and more transparent to Christ’s light and more and more pliable as instruments in God’s hands so that it is always God’s Word that we embrace and pass on to others and not our own selfish inclinations.

An old poem of mine communicates the depth of Tradition that passes from human hand to human hand. One fateful day when we celebrated the birthday of our cook in our small theologians community, our cook at one moment talked about the news she heard about Jesuits killed in a university in El Salvador, and of course, the detail that was most moving for her–that killed with the Jesuits was their cook and her daughter. Aling Mila our cook, so innocently said, “Basta ako brothers, kung bigyan ako ng pagkakataon, puwede rin akong mag-alay ng buhay kasama ng mga Heswita.” (As for me, brothers, given the chance, I’d also consider it an honour to offer my life alongside you Jesuits). All of us at table fell silent, humbled, perhaps even embarrassed by the depth of faith and generosity of our cook, Aling Mila. I thought what she said at table that evening was the greatest nourishment I had received that year to grow the priest-in-making in me. Let me share that most cherished moment with you.

Paglikha ng mga Pari
Fr. Victor R. Baltazar, S.J.

paghanda at paglinang ng lupa
pag-araro, paglagay ng abono
pagsaboy ng binhi, pagtanim ng punla,
pagsisige sa pagdilig

o paglagay ng patubig,
pag-antabay sa pagtubo
ng sanga-sangang palay at damo,

paghihintay…
… sa pag-uhay
… sa paglitaw ng palay
… sa ginintuang bunga

ng kaytagal na pag-aalaga,
at ‘di pa tapos…
gagapasin, gigiikin, hihimayin,
pupulutin, patutuyuin, paaarawan,
pahahanginan,
babalatan at babalutin
sa sakong sa trak kakamadahin,

at ‘di pa tapos…

tatawaran at babaratin
(ng komprador na medyo sakim!)
upang itawid sa bayan-bayan
at ipamahagi sa mga pamilihan…
doon kinikilo, binibili mong turing suki
pinipilian pa kung minsan ng mga batong mumunti

isasaing kapagkadaka para sa pananghali…

kaya nga ang binhing-punlang-sangang-uhay
ang inabonohan, dinamuhan, diniligan…
ginapas at giniik; binalatan at binalutan
itinawid sa mga pamilihan;
tinawaran at tinubuan
ngayo’y iyong inihahain sa hapag,
kanin na kakanin
ng mga binatang papariin.

sa isang banda roon,
sumingit ang kamay Mo sa paglikha.

A rough translation of the Filipino original is given here for our English readers.

Making Priests
(in honor of Mila Lineses, our cook)

toiling to till the land,
plowing it, enriching it,
sowing seeds or transplanting seedling,
watering the land in earnest,
waiting for sprouts;

for shooting stems of rice and grass.,
and then the long waiting…
… for stalk,
… for grain,
… for some golden chain
of grain that’s fruit of care;
and the journey’s not ended…

there’ll be threshing, and milling, and picking,
gathering, sun-drying, wind-sifting,
and then chaffing, and sacking,
and loading in trucks-a-waiting;
and the journey’s not ended…

there’ll be bargaining, cut-pricing
(with traders so stingy for margins!)
until rice reaches the towns
and poured-priced into market vats and counters.
there they’ll be measured and retailed from
the dealer of your choice.
you even pick out small stones before finally
boiling the rice for our meal.

thus, the seed-sprout-stem-stalk-grain
the fertilized, weeded, watered,
threshed and milled, chaffed and sacked,
and traded, at time unjustly valuated,
is now served steaming before us, rice-in-bowl,
a graced-good meal for these priests-in-the-making.

somewhere along the way,
the chain of creation
found your hands at play.

Shared creaturehood binds us into a communion. But beyond this we also grow into a shared religious experience–of becoming part of Christ’s Body, of receiving and living a profound Christian faith and priesthood, supported for generations by the blood of martyrs and the chants of saints and sinners, taught by ordinary catechists and countless pastors, and fed on the words and witness of so many believers in family and friends, my mother, in the first place whose evening rosaries had kept me close to Mary’s heart.

As we celebrate St. Peter and Paul, pillars of our Church, I celebrate and remember all the other tiny pieces of stone and mortar that built on Peter’s Rock and Christ’s cornerstone so that the Temple of God can expand enough to reach me–the many catechists and parish priests, religion teachers and seminarians, friends and family who helped me pray and study and live the faith, retreat guides, formators and spiritual directors as well. I pray that the profound gratitude I sense in my heart may translate into a deep sense of responsibility to nourish my faith, because I too am called to transmit the tradition to others–in word and witness of life. God Bless!

June 28, 2014  Leave a comment

June 17. Confirming Covenant Communion

To Pray on and Ponder: 1 Kings 21, 17-29; Matthew 5, 43-48.

Id quod volo (That which I desire most deeply):  To experience the lovingkindness and mercy of God in the way he exacts justice and confirms covenant love with and among his people. To awaken in gratitude for the many prophets in our midst who remind us of the demands of covenant love and communion.

After the Sinai covenant was established and the Decalogue became Yahweh’s Law among his people, the People of God evolved in the way she lived covenant. Initially, judges were chosen to rule tribal or clan groups that recognized the same covenant law. Soon after however, the people desired what they saw other neighbouring peoples experienced. They wanted a king to rule over them. And so Israel became a powerful nation especially as a unified monarchy under Saul, David and especially Solomon. Peace and prosperity reigned for a time, but powerful and prosperous kings fall into sinful and corrupt ways. At the height of his power, David committed the sins of adultery and murder. And Yahweh warned through the prophet Nathan that his sinful ways will have consequences in the Kingdom. Soon after, David’s son, Absalom rebelled against him and was killed. Fast forward, after the golden age of Solomon, the kingdom was split in two and thus began the decline of the Israelite kingdoms–Judah and Israel.

The scene in today’s first reading features the punishment of Ahab whose kingdom was plagued with more corruption and injustice especially with the influence of his pagan queen Jezebel his decisions as king. Ahab committed a serious injustice against Naboth, whose vineyard he grabbed and whose life he finally took. The prophet Elijah confronted Ahab for his sins against Naboth and spoke God’s Word to him. Elijah warned that he and his line were to die and their blood licked by the dogs. Ahab however repented upon hearing Elijah’s condemnation, and Yahweh took back his word and allowed Ahab to live.

In a sense the dynamic interaction between Prophet, King and People/Priest, was how Israel struggled to live faithfully according to the covenant. When the King becomes abusive and does not fulfil his role as shepherd and servant to God’s people, God sends the prophet to sound off a warning and recall to the king his duties before the covenant. In times when false prophecy plagues the people, God may send another prophet to confront and depose the false prophet or God corrects the error by sending the King and Priest together.  The King was supposed to lead the people according to the prescriptions of the Covenant Law. The Prophet was suppose to interpret God’s Word before the King and people. The prophet reminds the people about the covenant and constant teaches what the covenant means. The prophet also makes a judgment and condemns individuals and communities that live contrary to the covenant. In times of desolation, eg. exile or subjugation by foreign rule, the prophet acts to assure the people and remind them of Yahweh’s fidelity to his promises.

The Jesus that we see in the Gospel is good shepherd and prophet combined. And he would become priest and altar offering as well as he come close to the end of his ministry and life. In Jesus we see the fulfilment of God’s covenant and word. In him we see the one and only Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. In him we see the image of our Father who is perfect and for him Jesus himself will pour out everything out of love, effectively becoming the suffering-servant king who came not to be served but to serve. We pray that we share even a bit of Jesus’ self-sacrificing love so we too may be a channel of God’s lovingkindness before his people. God Bless!

June 17, 2014  Leave a comment

June 10. To Be GENUINE Bearers of Light!

To Pray on and Ponder:  Matthew 5, 13-16

Id quod volo:  To allow ourselves to be “claimed by God’s Light and Love” and receiving such light and love, we ourselves become genuine bearers of Light to others.

The second day of our return to Ordinary Time has us hear our Lord calling us to be “salt of the earth and light for the world.” As per transformed by salt and becoming bearers of light, we are asked to dispose ourselves to conversion and not allow ourselves to become bland or lacking in flavour. we are asked not to hide our gifts, but rather employ them so we can become shining witnesses of God’s redeeming light before others.

We may recall that the original light bearer became so enamoured with his beauty and light that he turned in on itself and declared independence from God. His name is Lucifer, literally, bearer of light. Yet with his light disengaged from the true source light, Lucifer became as it were, a blackhole. He was sucking everything on its path to augment itself. As you know blackholes become massive energy vampires that such everything that even its own light could not escape.

I am reminded of Bishop Bacani’s phrase “Christians if high wattage”–Christians whose life is so filled with God’s light that their faces literally shine as transfigured individuals, much like our Lord at his transfiguration. I often see this in people who have made good retreats and experienced God’s light penetrating their deepest selves and transforming them from within. Joy and peace radiate from them, they become shining witnesses of God’s light. The good bishop would often invite people to look at their seat mates at Church or in an assembly to look at their faces and see if they are indeed high wattage Christians or shall we say they are Christians with busted bulbs or in a power failure. Look at the mirror and see!

We look at ourselves and people around us. Are we people who radiate God’s peace and joy to others when we engage them in conversation or relationship? Or are we such shadowy creatures who measure and calculate, or worse such energy from others because we deal with them according to how use them from selfish ends? Do we see people for the gift they are or do we use them, abuse them, manipulate them, interacting with them so we may draw benefit from them for ourselves or so we may prop our egos as we stand over them to divest them or dominate?

May we have the courage and openness to allow God to claim us into his light so that we may really be rendered transparent to his redeeming light and transfigured by God’s light, we may become genuine bearers of that light to others. God bless!

June 11, 2014  Leave a comment

June 9. The Challenge of the Beatitudes: Compassion Wants to Become Us

To Pray On and Ponder: Matthew 5, 1-12

Id quod volo: To see in Jesus a way of becoming blessed and happy in living a life of self-sacrificing love.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said that the suffering we take in our hearts with grace, stretches our hearts so to create space for suffering people to take refuge in. I guess pain received in grace helps enlarge our hearts and fosters in it a greater capacity to exercise compassion towards others.

I think it is this same truth that St. Paul wants to convey in our first reading for today: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion, and the God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those in affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ’s sufferings overflow in us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow.”

It is in the same spirit perhaps that we can draw meaning from the Beatitudes. They are not so much God’s way of helping us endure the difficulties of discipleship but more perhaps Christ’s invitation for us to embody the very values that he embodied, and making his desires incarnated into our characters, we also begin to live the consolations of God as Jesus Christ did.

Think of the Beatitudes as the portrait of Jesus himself, and our embrace and living out of the Beatitudes is our attempt at putting on Jesus’ portrait as our own. For like Jesus, when we allow ourselves to love others so deeply as to even suffer for them in grace, Jesus Christ’s compassion becomes us. Poverty enriches us with deeper trust in God and inner strength and resiliency. With both trust and strength of character we are able to go beyond our own needs to reach out and serve others. The experience of grief or hunger or humiliation or forgiveness, also allows us to experience a God who comforts, who feeds and who forgives and this very experience of being cared for and loved unconditionally helps us to stand up and also give of ourselves to build up others as well.

And then for people who are blessed to share more intimately with the Lord Jesus in his suffering, those of us who experience persecution for the sake of righteousness, those of us are able to meet with insult and persecution and slander and false witness, we are promised reward in the heavens. For such gracious suffering brings us to the fast lane of communion with Jesus Christ–the God who embraced humanity and suffered sin to save us all from sin and death.

Many saints are known to have reached so deep a transcendence that they actually prayed for suffering and persecution. For us here and now, we simply ask that we remember God acutely when we are faced with suffering. We ask that we be able to choose to suffer in grace and offer the compassion that it brings to loving others and loving them effectively and fruitfully. God Bless!

June 10, 2014  Leave a comment

June 6. A Little Greek Unlocks More Profound Meanings on Love

To Pray on and Ponder:  John 21, 15-19.

By the Lake of Tiberias, the Risen Lord gathers his disciples again and serves them breakfast. It must have been awkward at first. After all, all but one of them deserted Jesus at the time of his passion. Peter even denied him just hours after the latter had passionately sworn that he would give his life for him. In my own contemplations on this story, I found a Jesus who turned this awkward situation into a fun breakfast scene, when the Risen Lord would set all of them laughing during a hearty meal of charcoal-grilled fish. As Ignatius said, this Risen Lord is one who brings consolation to people who encounter him. He does want to give complete joy to his friends.

After the breakfast, the one who would have felt most awkward, Peter, was called aside by Jesus. Many biblical commentators say that the conversation that follows after is like a ceremonial healing for Peter: three times he denied our Lord, and now, three times, our Lord asks him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me, more than these?” Each time, Peter renews his yes to our Lord.

But little Greek helps us unlock deeper meanings to this. Apparently what we read as simply “love” in Jesus’ threefold question and Peter’s threefold response involves not one but two Greek forms of the word “love.” As you know the Greek language has three forms of the word “love.” Eros, the first form refers to sexual love. Philein refers to the love of friends. Agape refers to self-sacrificing love that is the kind of love God loves us with.

What is a bit intriguing is that in the ensuing conversation between Peter and our Lord, our Lord kept asking Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) me, and in both places, Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love (philein) you.” Was Peter humbly telling the Lord, “you know Lord that I do want to love you with the depth of agape, but for now what I am prepared to give is my love for a friend (philein).” And so the third time the Lord asked, he actually changed his question into “Simon, son of John, do you love me as a friend (philein)?” And Peter responds again with “Yes Lord, you know that I love you as a friend (philein). The Gospel also says Peter was a bit aggrieved that the Lord asked him a third time.

This time around, did Jesus lower his expectations to the level of loving that Peter was prepared to give, showing us all that God really does receive from us the kind of loving response we are prepared to give.  Knowing these subtle meanings from the Greek, we realize too that the final words of Jesus to Peter were not words of foreboding or words of warning, but on the contrary, these are words of assurance. It’s as if  Jesus was telling Peter, it’s okay, Peter, I understand this is the loving you’re prepared to give me for now, but know that in the future you will love me and glorify me in the way that I love you. You will also be crucified like me.

We ask and pray, that Jesus continue to receive us in the kind of loving we are prepared to give him at this time of our lives, We also express our trust that through him and with his Spirit in our hearts, our own loving, despite its flimsiness, vulnerability, fickle-mindedness and shallowness will also come to fruition and become the kind of divine, self-sacrificing love that is truly the way Christ loves. God Bless!

 

June 7, 2014  Leave a comment

June 5. Mutual Self-Mediation with Christ in Prayer.

To Pray on and Ponder:  John 17, 20-26.

Id quod volo:  that we encounter this Jesus Christ who constantly draws us into the love that binds the Father and the Son, so that in this Spirit, we may grow constantly in prayer and love.

Today’s helping from the high priestly prayer of Christ in his yet unfinished farewell discourse, speaks about all of us. Yes. Christ prayed for us when he was speaking his farewell to his disciples. And this speech is a part of his priestly prayer to his Father. Just meditating on these words never fail to console me, as I imagine the depth in which Christ desires us all to be part of the dynamic of divine life and love.

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying, “I pray not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father are in me and I in you . . . .”

In his lifetime, Jesus had exhorted his disciples to a love of different levels: firstly, a love that is at par with genuine self-love: “love others as you love yourself,” and then more deeply still, “love one another as I have loved you,” that is to say, to love on the level of Christ’s love for them. But here in his final days, Jesus would still up the ante of the love he desires for us and this he does not express in a commandment, but rather in a faith-filled prayer to his Father: “that they may be one as you, Father are in me and I in you,” which is to say, ultimately, the love Jesus desires for us is the very Spirit of Divine Love, as he and the Father are one.

It is in this context that I recall Bernard Lonergan’s beautiful teaching on “mutual self-mediation with Christ in prayer.” In brief, Lonergan says, in intimacy and genuine community, a person grows into genuine self-appropriation and wholeness and is drawn to shift in depth in his loving self-offering and commitment to others, a commitment which in turn deepens his or her own personal maturing in love and charity.

Love allows us to mediate a beloved’s desires and well-being, and other mediate the same love to us as well. This mutual self-mediation allows for genuine relationships to help in each other’s mutual growth in wholeness, in charity and love. The same principle happens but in an infinitely deeper way when our love relationship is between us and the Lord. As we grow in intimacy with Jesus and become familiar with his desires, values, commitments, passions, these become present to us through the mediation of prayer and relationship with Christ, and as his person becomes mediated into our personal stories and lives of meaning, we become also his mediation to others.

A whole gradual process of conversion happens in the course of this mutual self-mediation, as we go through periods of resonances and dissonances between Christ’s values and ours. But the more we continue to engage Christ, the more we are drawn by the depth and heroism of his love for ourselves, firstly and for others as well. As we embrace more and more of the Christ mediated to us, we become also new Christs who will mediate his word and person to others by our life choices and commitments.

In a very real sense, Christ continues to utter his priestly prayer for all of us, so we might believe, find fuller joy in him and live life as a part of Christ’s body and mediating him before others as well. God Bless!

 

 

June 5, 2014  Leave a comment

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