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

June 4. Remembering the Words of a Friend Bidding Farewell.

To Pray on and Ponder:  Acts 20-28-38; John 17, 11b-19

Id quod volo (that which we desire most deeply): The gift of remembering, to call to mind and draw fruit from the memory of the parting words of Jesus, our friend who bid farewell before his ascending–to catch his Word, be drawn to the Truth he offers, to be with him as his Father adopts us as his children.

I’ve heard time and again, that we Filipinos are fond of long farewells. After the first bid of goodbye, guests and hosts stand as though to commence the ritual of taking leave but people just keep on introducing yet new topics to converse about, hosts bid some more time by offering to prepare some take aways from the great amount of food still left on the table; children momentarily pause from their games, but seeing their elders continuing to linger, resume their play. And this ritual goes on and on until, so people say, the seventh goodbye has been expressed.

I don’t know if Jesus knew any Filipino sensibility at all, most probably not at that time, but his farewell discourse was not short either. This discourse spans several chapters in the Gospel of John and would have taken most of Thursday evening, long after the sabbath meal and foot washings have finished. We know that the part featured today was one of the most solemn parts as Jesus was already addressing his Father here (I wonder if the disciples were still awake by this time), and Jesus was praying to the Father in a tone that seems to have already begun his negotiations with Abba at the famed garden of Gethsemani.

Jesus was praying to his Father for some gifts to be bequeathed to his disciple-friends upon his parting.  Jesus knew that the time of his physical presence with his friends was running out and that after he their shepherd is struck dead, they will scatter. Which is why at this most crucial time before all things regarding his passion and death come to pass, he would now ask his Father for the most important gifts he wants given to his friends. These are sort of his final wishes before he offers himself as a libation.

First, that the Father give his disciples his name and protect them by this name. Everytime words such as these are mentioned in the New Testament, I am brought back to that dialogue between Moses and Yahweh, where Moses seemed to have wanted to trick God into naming himself  to him “who will I tell Pharaoh, sent me?” But God brushed aside Moses’ pretensions at domination (the dominant one names the subordinate!) and simply told the prophet, “Tell Pharaoh, ‘I am who I am’” sent you.” And by this “I am” name, Yahweh, simply assures his creatures that he is one who abides forever, one who was, who is and who will be present forever.” But God’s lovingkindness and presence is only perpetually offered to us as an offer of love and companionship–never an imposition. We creatures have to offer ourselves back to God who is Creator, but ironically who awaits our permission to receive his offer of lovingkindness and presence.

We have to forego of any other name by which we may have lived our lives; any other idols or attachments or addictions with which we have betrayed ourselves and pretended to live independently of our Provident God. Only in God will our souls find rest. Only in God will we find our salvation, our strength, and our life.  With God’s name, we find protection. David the shepherd-king knew this well, as he said “with your rod and staff you defend me.” And David knew that a shepherd’s rod and staff have the seal of ownership inscribed on it which names the sheep after the identity of the shepherd. Jesus, the Good Shepherd knew this well too, that’s why the beginning of his prayer is, protect them by your Name Father, so that not even the Evil One will have power over them.

Second, Jesus declared, I have given them you Word and because of this, the world hated them. When we come to live by God’s Word, the prospect of the world hating us becomes simply logical, because as Jesus had forewarned, no servant is greater than his master, and if Jesus himself incurred the world’s hate, how much more us, his servants, when we stand by our Master’s Word. But Jesus asks his Father, “consecrate them in Truth, for your word is Truth,” especially as I send them all to the world that hates them. Jesus knows that in the thick of battle for allegiance when the disciples carry out their mission in the world the twin powers of the lures of this world and the threat of its punishments may weaken the disciples’ resolve, but perhaps a lot less so, if they are consecrated in God’s Truth. The power from on high will strengthen the hearts of disciples and make of them evangelizers of others in the world, fired as it were by the very strength of God’s Truth.

A third gift is yet a promise at least at that point. For Jesus assured his disciples that he would leave them orphan but would send them an Advocate who will recall to them everything that he had ever taught them and unleash from within them enormous gifts that will empower them to make disciples of other nations and gather all people into one body and one spirit in Christ.

The Lord who lingered in his farewell concludes his discourse with a prayer that entrusts all of us to his Father and to the Spirit who is yet to come. Jesus asked from three valuable gifts: the Father’s name in whose adoption and protection we will remain above the evil one’s grasp; the Word of Truth in which we are consecrated and made holy and finally the Spirit who will complete everything that Jesus left unfinished and would remind us of all that he has taught us. We ask that we keep our hearts open in receiving these gifts constantly and with open minds and hearts.

Perhaps some questions for reflection may be helpful: How have we kept faithful in living as adoptive children of God. How have we lived the grace of creaturehood (being creature) and of filiation (being child) before God? How have we kept humble and faithful, simple and surrendering, trusting before a God who will always provide for us and love us without condition and without limit? How have we dwelt constantly in God’s truth? How have we resisted temptations to embrace lies or half-truths for convenience or security? How have we succumbed to temptations to deceive, to pretend, to lie, to manipulate, to distort or deny the truth about ourselves or about others or about God? How have we kept our hearts open to the many gifts of the Spirit? As we inch our way closer to the Solemn Feast of Pentecost, we ask the Lord to prepare our hearts as we begin praying, “Veni, Sancte Spiritu.” Come Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of your faith, enkindling in them the fire of your love!” God Bless!

June 4, 2014  Leave a comment

May 29. “It Bulaga!” (Peek-a-boo!). Three Consequences of our Lord’s Ascension.

To Pray on and Ponder:  John 16, 16-20

Id quod volo:  To recognize in the Mystery of the Lord’s Ascension another expression of the Lord’s loving providence for us in the further deepening of God’s love for us from a limited earth-bound, culture-bound and in-the-flesh communication of love to love that knows no bounds, no limits, no conditions, a love beyond any of our known horizon and depth.

When Jesus ascended to the heavens, there were immediately three consequences for our life of faith:

First, his capacity to give love was intensified and elevated. No longer was his loving limited to his mortal body, no longer limited by his own time, and people, and religion and culture. His love was now accessible to all times and peoples and cultures.

Second, but Jesus has not lost his humanity. Even as he sits at the right hand of the Father, he is completely and still human through and through—and in fact human in an infinitely glorious way. Hindi na nga natin puwede sabihing, pasensya ka, sapagkat kami’y tao lamang, marupok at nagkakasala. No Jesus as a human person has penetrated our human experience to the very core and now he can be big enough so he can be present to millions at the same time that he can be so small as to be fully present to each of us in the intimacy of our unique personal experiences and struggles.

Finally Jesus is now for us a mysterious Spirit—a presence that will be at times most visible and distinct to us, yet many times invisible, darkly mysterious whom we see as if in a dark mirror, says St. Paul. Or as St. John recounts Jesus saying to his disciples—sometimes you see, sometimes you don’t.

I was reflecting on this third quality and what it could mean for us.  What I came to recall was a game we normally play with children. You know psychologists say, small kids believe as real only the things that they see. That is why if you play with a kid and hide yourself from him, he or she will lose interest in a bit and think that the hidden you is no longer real anymore. “Concrete operational” the psychologists call this stage.

That’s why perhaps we Filipinos have invented the game “It-bulaga” a rough equivalent of the American “peek a boo!” What does this game have to do with the Ascended Jesus?  Well we say to the kid who is still training to see: “It-bulaga!” and then alternately show and hide ourselves from the child’s view. In due time he would learn that we are really still there, even if he does not see us.

In the same way I think, our Risen Lord is training us to sense his presence whether or not we see him, feel him, or sense his most subtle motions. Hopefully we develop a deep familiarity with Jesus’ ways so that his slightest signs move us and excite us.

We can also learn from the fox and little prince, recalling what the fox taught the prince. Taming means that we see each other alternately from a distance then closer and closer, and in every sighting, we foster greater anticipation and expectancy, we feel greater love for the one we had missed. And in due time we see our beloved not only from the eyes but from the heart and this makes all the difference for the more essential things in life are really invisible to the eye. Only with the heart can we see these things in full light. God bless!

May 29, 2014  Leave a comment

May 21. Deepening Signs of Communion with Jesus

To Pray on and Ponder:  Acts 15, 1-6; John 15, 1-8

Id quod volo (That which we most deeply desire):  To see in Jesus, our True Vine, the true source of life and growth, that we may constantly root and ground ourselves into the mystery of his love and prune away from ourselves all the dead branches of barrenness and vice, the better to bear abundant fruit that will last.

Fr. Walter Ysaac, S.J., one of our professors of theology at the Loyola School of Theology once taught us to see how biblical images give us a glimpse of how our early Christian communities may have grown in their awareness and appreciation for the radical closeness and identification to which they say Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour as communing intimately with them who are members of His body.

He said one just had to notice the operative images that illustrated the grace of baptism for the Christians. Initially the gift of baptism was likened to a white dress that we put on the baptized after the baptism has been performed. The gift of the faith received by the baptized was like some external thing that one puts on (and because it is external, such dress can be removed as fast as it can be worn!).

And then came other images which highlighted more inclusion into a community–images like, sheep that becomes part of a flock cared for by the Good Shepherd who knows his flock intimately and who is willing to give his life for his sheep; living stones that build into a Temple of the Spirit, as they build on Christ, the corner stone; or even perhaps, the different parts of the One Body of Christ.

But Fr. Wally said, it is St. John’s image of the vine and branches that give us a compelling image of communion. Christ is the True Vine, and we

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are the branches, taken from other vines and grafted onto Jesus, the one true Vine.

The use of the image of “grafting” helps us appreciate the closeness of communion illustrated here. A branch that is grafted into a good tree or vine begins to draw life from the mother stump. After the graft is performed, the grafted branch begins to live on the food that the mother tree takes from the sun and from the ground. The finest attributes of the mother tree begins to seep into the branch and improve it. Further on, the image of pruning helps us visualize how after we insert ourselves into the Christian community, we begin to draw life and fruitfulness by our connection to Christ who is the Source and Author of Life.

We contrast this with the meanings attendant to the first major debate in the post-resurrection early Christian community: should a Christian become  Jewish convert first before he is baptized into the Christian faith? Some Judaizers wanted adherence to the Jewish religion (circumcision) to become a prerequisite for entry into the Christian community (baptism). Ultimately, the Church ruled that she would not require new members to be baptized first into Judaism. After this issue was resolved in the First Council of Jerusalem, many of these differing views were muted and let go.

Apart from the taking in of bread that is the symbol of Christ’s body, this vine and branches image makes manifest to us the real and profound communion that our God desires to forge between himself and ourselves. And this ought to be a genuine sign of  God’s love and providence for his people. God Bless!

May 21, 2014  Leave a comment

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