October 6. A Grammatical Tweak Subverts Our “Neighbor-ing”

To Pray on and Ponder:  Luke 10, 25-37

Id quod volo (That which I most deeply desire): To notice how inclusive God’s gift of love and mercy is as we contemplate Jesus extolling the good samaritan: neighbor is not primarily a chosen special beneficiary of my love but an interior disposition before all people–God’s free gift of love and mercy to me are gifts to be shared to other people whom God loves too.

The highly popular Parable of the Good Samaritan has often been used to teach us about love of neighbour which goes beyond our usual comfort zones. We see for instance characters (eg. Priest and Levite) whose life and work were supposed to be about love and care of neighbour, but in the parable they were the first ones to circle around their obligation and avoid the inconvenience of self-sacrificing love. And who would show the love of neighbour that Jesus desired–a character that introduces a subversive detail: the Samaritan–the man who was supposed to be from an enemy camp, one considered by Jews to be hybrids and therefore impure, one from whom love is not expected because of the animosity that existed between Samaritans and Jews.

So it would not escape our notice, we can immediately mention here several points about love of neighbour that we draw from the parable–that it involves doing things outside of our usual comfort zones, it involves inconvenience and self-sacrifice, and it goes beyond the usual confines of whom we consider friends or allies–love of neighbour is inclusive and universal.

But in this particular parable, Jesus introduces the revolutionary in an almost imperceptible grammatical tweak in the story. And this tweak merits our noticing and further reflection. In the beginning we see that the scene we are in actually begins with a scholar of the law trying to test and entrap Jesus by asking Jesus what eternal life requires. And so Jesus very casually replies by saying that one will be rewarded with life by fulfilling the first two commandments of the law: love of God and love of neighbor. And then the scholar wanted to further justify himself and so he asked, “but Lord, who is my neighbour?” It’s as if he was asking which people can I include in that group of people who shall be entitled to my love?”  The word neighbor in the command “Love your neighbour!” is after all an object and objects can be justifiably qualified and limited to make the law clear.

But Jesus can not be outdone in wisdom. Our Lord responds to the scholar with a story and in that story, Jesus is able to change the configuration of the argument. Characters who traditionally embrace love of neighbor as part of their ministry and life were portrayed in the story as not doing what they ought to be doing. Instead it was a representative of any enemy people who turns out loving in the end–and loving with a detailed and meticulous personal care that any listener cannot deny or doubt. Then the final clincher in Jesus’ strategy, he asks, “Which of this three was neighbor to the robber’s victim? The scholar couldn’t but have answered in a way that subverts his own biases–”The one who treated him with mercy.” And Jesus’ teaching shines brightly: “Go and do likewise.”

What almost escapes our notice was that Jesus had already tweaked the grammar into this affair of loving neighbour. In Jesus’ world, neighbour is not an object of love that we discriminate and choose to include or exclude in the universe of people who will be fortunate enough to receive love from us. Neighbour is subject and not object. Neighbour is the kind of person we are called to become before all, and more especially before people in need or people set aside for nothing or people who are left vulnerable in a society where loving can become a role or obligation that can be disposed of at will. To be “neighbour” is in fact what love makes us become to each other, and so it is a constant choice and struggle. It is performative.

It is not easy to become neighbour to people who are difficult to love or people whom we have not developed a liking for. But the commandment stays: Love God and be a neighbour to the people whom God loves, and as we know that simply means, everybody.

And so we pause and reflect: how have I ordinarily lived this commandment of “love your neighbour as yourself.”? How have I tended to delimit which people to include in that circle of “neighbour?” Whom do I tend to include and whom do I tend to exclude? What would I say form part of the dispositions and skills of being “neighbour” to people? How much of those dispositions and skills mark my own love–what am I gifted with or good at? what do I still lack? How do I sense God calling me in this universal command of love of neighbour? We pray that we ourselves feel that God who has chosen to pitch tent and dwell among us has been a consistently loving neighbour to us, with a deep enough love to empower us to be neighbour to others as well. God Bless!

October 6, 2014  Leave a comment

Sept. 29. Feast of Archangels. Pure of Heart and Available for God’s Mission

To Pray on and Ponder:  Rev. 12, 7-12ab;
John 1, 47-51

Id quod volo [That which I most deeply desire]:  That the Lord gifts me with a pure and faithful heart so that I may be free and available to God’s every mission, just as his holy archangels are–always constantly in contemplative gaze of God as they are constantly in the speed of mission ministering to God’s people.

It is not by coincidence that the Gospel story brings to our attention, Nathanael–the true son of Israel, but one who has no guile in his heart. For the first Israel, the man we knew as Jacob, was a man who was deceitful and full of guile. And because his heart was not pure, his availability for God’s mission was also compromised. He lived his life running away from the elder brother that he jilted–Esau. And his own family was in disarray because he tended to favour the sons he begot from his favoured wife Rachel (eg. Joseph and Benjamin) while he pretty much ignored the others by the less favoured wife, Leah, the first of the sisters he married because his father-in-law Laban also jilted and deceived him. Deceit for deceit for the man who was full of guile.

And so when Jesus sees Nathanael, he saw a pure heart, a heart without deceit or guile and a heart ready to accomplish only that which God desired.

Jacob or Israel had to wrestle with God before he could dream of a heavenly vision of a ladder that bridged heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending freely.

What do we make out of these images?  A line from Ignatius’ Jesuit Constitutions may shed light. “What pertains to chastity requires no interpretation, since it is evident how perfectly it should be preserved, by endeavouring to imitate therein the purity of the angels in cleanness of body and mind. Therefore with this presupposed, we shall now treat of holy obedience.” 

It has always fascinated me that this brief line is all that Ignatius wrote about chastity in our Jesuit Constitutions, and this line was even written as if an excursus in the chapter on obedience. And yet it is in understanding what “angelic purity” meant for Ignatius that we get a sense of how chastity as angelic purity was a presupposition for the freedom of apostolic obedience. With that image of an angel who at one and same moment could be fully attentive to contemplating God’s will and ministering in full freedom and availability to God’s people. The angel is a perfect image of the contemplative-in-action. And we know how this translates into concrete apostolic action. It is that heart which know no distraction from ego compulsions and unfreedoms that can receive and accomplish the desires of God. Only an instrument fully conjoined to God’s call and mission may be called and sent. Apostolic chastity helps a person achieve some sense of wholeness and integrity that allow us to be free and available to God and God’s people. We therefore pray for such angelic purity, a heart that knows no distraction from unfreedoms or attachments, a heart so free and available to God’s promptings. God Bless!

September 30, 2014  Leave a comment

Sept. 28. “Kailan pa man, Hindi Ka Lilimutin”

(The Filipino version of this homily was used in the wake mass for Mr. Alfredo Garcia, who passed away recently. The homily is dedicated especially to Ms. Sabrina Garcia, Freddie’s widow and to her three children, Abraham, Gandhi and Crystal.)

To Pray on and Ponder:  Ezekiel 18, 25-28; Psalm 25; Philippians 2, 1-11; Matthew 21, 28-32

Id quod volo (That which we desire most): To experience in a concrete way how God remembers me in my darkest hours and in remembering me, redeems me and calls me into his light and life, so that every act of disobedience and infidelity in my person may be healed and reconsidered on the strength of Christ’s own obedience and fidelity.

Kailan pa man

Kailan pa man, ay di ka lilimutin, alam mo namang minamahal ka namin.
Sa araw at gabi, lagi naming dalangin, na pagpalain ka katulad ng anghel.
Kundangan ay wala kaming kapangyarihan, na ang paglisan mo’y aming mahadlangan.
Kung wala ka man ngayon, dito sa aming piling, kasama-sama ka, sa diwa at damdamin.
Sa dulo ng landas, na aming tatahakin, kahit sa alaala’y lagi kang hahanapin.

Long before Manoling Francisco’s “Hindi Kita Malilimutan” came to fame, Catholic communities would use this very short kundiman like song in occasions of goodbyes and wakes and funerals. Our eucharist this evening to celebrate Freddie’s life is a most appropriate occasion in which to sing and to reflect on this song in the light of our readings.

I thought of this theme of remembering and how redemptive remembering is for us, especially the ones grieving for the sudden loss of a loved one. We gather as a community of people who loved and were loved by Freddie and we help each other remember the many gifts we received through Freddie and the beautiful and singular gift that Freddie was to us. But then gradually, we shift from remembering to committing to memory. One writer on grief goes that the details of person will slowly fade away into the recesses of memory especially after the wake, when the solitude of mourning takes over from the solidarity of the mourning community that also fades away after the remains of the loved one are buried. For the closest family who grieve, and especially for the widow–details of the person will leave one by one–we pack the things he left behind, we run by the memories of close encounters, the signs of physical affection, we decide on what to do with his text messages, his FB posts, his pictures, etc. And remembering these vividly, we try to commit them to memory, to inner memory where they will remain cherished, but will be buried there as well so life can move on.

And for these we can sing Kailan pa man to Freddie and tell him, we will remember you for all the love and goodness that you have been and then we will commit you to memory where your presence become now in us and your love assumes the form of a legacy that informs our love of others and the life we pursue from here on.

But there is another remembering to notice here. More than we remember Freddie and our joint remembering helps strengthen each other in our grief, it is good for us to remember as well, God sings this song to Freddie, Christ sings Kailan pa man to Freddie, and to us as well. And for our sakes, when God remembers us, God redeems us! I recall that significant moment at the height of the epic flood of Noah. The waters rose and rose until no life outside of the ark remained. And that the Scriptures proclaims a quiet witness: at the height of the floods, Yahweh remembered Noah. And when Yahweh remembers his beloved, the flood waters begin to recede.

God remembers us when the flood waters have arisen too high and the storms in our lives become too dark and windy. And when God remembers us, we are saved from drowning in our darkness and misery. God remembers us and we are saved. For when God remembers, God’s fidelity and mercy are touched and God cannot but save us in his love. That is why, the psalm response for this Sunday’s liturgy is most proper and propitious: “Remember us Lord, in your mercies.” It’s a beautiful plea to our merciful God to please remember us, not for the ugly things we have done or have become, but for his mercies, for his love, for the very foundation that we can still live in hope and faith and trust, and with some daring, we can continue to live in God’s peace, that God will continue to write straight in our many crooked, crooked lives.

Then St. Paul and the Gospel have more to offer. We see in our Gospel what I call “The Parable of the Three Sons.” In this parable lies the secret of how Christ is able to remember us and redeem us. For unlike the elder son who says “yes” but finally disobeys and unlike the younger son who says “no” but ultimately does as his Father wishes, the third Son who is the one telling the story is the Son who is faithful in word and deed. And by Jesus’ obedience we are all healed from our own rebellion. Jesus suffered obedience and in his obedience, the final word for all of us is a love that remembers and a love that heals–a love that will never forget us and abandon us into death and darkness.

Hayaan po nating kantahin lagi ni Jesus ang Kailan pa man kay Freddie at sa bawat isa sa atin. Even God says wala siyang kapangyarihan sa ating paglisan. God will sing Kailan pa man to Freddie and each of us saying that even he does not have any power over our passing. But he does have the power of raising us again and again to new life, for he remembers us to life. God Bless!

 

——– 0 ——–

(Ang sumusunod po ay homilyang ginamit sa misa sa lamay ng yumaong si G. Alfredo “Freddie” Garcia, ang kabiyak ni Sabrina “Rina” at ama nina Abraham, Gandhi at Crystal).

Kailanpaman ay di ka lilimutin
alam mo namang minamahal ka namin.

Sa araw at gabi’y lagi naming dalangin
na pagpalain kang katulad ng anghel.

Kundangan ay wala kaming kapangayarihan
na ang paglisan mo’y aming mahadlangan.

Kung wala ka man ngayon, dito sa aming piling
kasama-sama ka sa diwa at damdamin.

Sa dulo ng landas na aming tatahakin,
kahit sa alaala’y lagi kang hahanapin.

Alam ninyo po minsan ay may nabasa akong artikulo tungkol sa pagluluksa. Sabi noong asawa, hindi naman po nagaganap nang minsanan lang ang pagluluksa. Unti-unti raw po ang pagluluksa. Sa panahon nga ng lamay, parang nairaraos pa ng mas madali at magaan ang pagluluksa kasi ang paggunita sa minamahal nating pumanaw ay kasabay ng kuwentuhan nang mag-anak at mga kaibigan. Parang napapagaan ng paggunita at pasasalamat ng isang sambayanan ang loob ng mga naiiwan. Alam ninyo naman pong parang napakaraming tao ang natulungan at naging kaibigan ni Freddie, kaya rin sa panahon ng pagdadalamhati nina Rina, Bram, Gandhi at Crystal, sampu ng mga kapatid at kamag-anakan ay parang lumilitaw at lumilitaw ang iniwang pamanang kagandahang-loob ni Freddie sa mga taong minahal niya at nagmahal sa kanya.

Kaya nga ang presensya niya ang nagkakaroon ng bagong anyo sa mga pusong nagpapasalamat at ginising sa pagmamahal dahil sa mga kabutihang nagawa ni Freddie. Lampas pa dito, naisip ko rin, marahil hindi lang po tayo ang umaawin ng kailanpaman kay Freddie. Ang Diyos din po ay kumakanta kay Freddie. At alam ninyo po sa bibliya natin, ang pag-aalala ng Diyos ay katumbas ng kaligtasan. Nang humupa ang baha sa panahon ni Noe, at nagpasikat si Yahweh sa napakagandang imahen ng bahaghari, ang sabi ng tagasalaysay sa Henesis, “at naalala ni Yahweh si Noe.” at sa pag-alalang iyon, dumating ang kaligtasan para kay Noe.

Kaya nga nagiging makahulugan para sa atin ang dasalin natin kay Yahweh ang dinasal na mang-aawit sa Salmo: “Poon, iyong gunitain wagas mong pag-ibig sa akin.” Panginoon, limutin ninyo na po ang aming mga kasalanan. Pansinin ninyo na lang po ang tiwala naming at pananalig sa iyong pag-ibig. Hayaan ninyo pong akayin kayo ng wagas ninyong pag-ibig sa hangaring kami’y maligtas, kami’y iyong makapiling. Patawarin ninyo po ang ano man sa aming mga pagkukulang at pagmamalabis.

At kaya nga sa katapusan, magandang isipin ang Talinghaga ng tatlong anak na nakikita natin sa ating Ebanghelyo. Sa kuwento ni Hesus meron daw magkapatid—unang kinausap ng ama ang panganay niyang lalaki at inutusan itong pumunta sa ubasan. Ngunit tumanggi ang panganay. “Ayoko po.” Ganumpaman, sa katapusan, sumunod din ang panganay. Nagpasaway sa salita pero tumalima sa gawa. Samantala ang bunsong lalaki naman ay nagsabi agad sa kanyang Ama, “Sige po, pupunta ako sa ubasan.” Subalit katapus-tapusan, hindi rin naman pumunta ito. Kumbaga nagpanggap na susunod, pero sa katupasan ay nagpasaway. Kaya nga ang tanong ni Jesus, sino sa dalawa ang sumunod sa kalooban ng Ama?

Dadalawa ang anak sa kuwento ni Jesus, pero sinasabi ko sa inyo, Talinghaga ito ng tatlong anak at sa ganang akin, si Jesus ang ikatlong anak—ang anak na sumunod sa salita at sa gawa.

Dito po ako mananalig sa kaligtasan ni Freddie at ng lahat sa atin. Dahil sa Jesus na tinanggap natin sa ating mga puso at buhay, may isang Diyos na palaging gugunitain tayo at itatago sa kanyang puso lalo na sa panahon ng kadiliman. At makakaasa tayong sa katapusan-tapusan, dahil pinili ni Jesus na manalig at tumalima sa salita at sa gawa, lagi niya tayong alalahanin, lalo na si Freddie at sa pag-aalala niya sa atin, matatanggap rin natin ang kanyang kaligtasan.

September 29, 2014  Leave a comment

Sept 20. Of Soils, Seeds and Sowers

To Pray on and Ponder: Luke 8, 4-15.

Id quod volo [That which we desire most]: A renewed trust and confidence in God’s desire to plant good seed in me and draw fruit from me notwithstanding the mixed bag of desires and gifts and shadows in my person.

Let me focus today’s reflection on the Gospel for today’s Catholic liturgy–one of my favorite parables–the Parable of the Seed and the Sower. We do not know who in the history of bible translations started putting titles to various pericopes of the bible texts. But the title that settled with our parable for today is as you know, “The Parable of the Seed and the Sower,” and I believe, with good reason.

While many of us, myself included tend to do an immediate examination of conscience when we hear or read this parable, asking ourselves the question: “So, what kind of soil have you been lately? Look and see so you’d understand why the seed of God’s Word grows the way it does (or worse, does not grow in you at all!”) And then we do another round of self-bashing.

But the more I read the parable, the more its very title touches me and I say to myself, “It’s really not about the soils, silly Vic, it’s about the seed and the Sower.” The Sower sows the seed quite arbitrarily and as he sprinkles the seeds onto the field, naturally, some seed fall on bad soils–some thorny, some rocky, some shallow, some full of weeds, but some do fall on good soil and such seeds spring up with much life and confidence, grow healthy shoots, and in due time bear abundant fruit, its bounty probably offsetting whatever the sower lost because of the bad soils.

And so perhaps we look into ourselves and not see whether the soil of our hearts is hard-rock, or thorny or shallow or full of useless weeds or good. Rather we look into our hearts with a sigh and say to ourselves, “oh my the field of my heart is filled with different kinds of soil, yet my good sower looks at my field with delight and spreads good seed in all of me. With hope and love sown by the sower, my faith grows that something good will come out of me, no matter what. No I do not leave it to chance, I know in due time that even my hard and rocky places will transform and become fallow. I know that the weeds and thorns that plague my soul will soon be cut off and burnt. But even as I know myself to be this mixed bag of desires and motives, I try to put all my energy into growing good seed and in the good parts of me, while the other “bad” parts heal and become whole.

It’s not about the soils, it’s about the Seed of God’s Word–too precious to ignore and brought to waste. And more importantly, it’s about the Sower, if he deems it right to sow seed in me, then I ought to have faith and honor the Lord’s trust in me and I proceed in earnest with my life, my ministry and service and hope to God that he does “write straight in (my) crooked lines,” that he breaks the meagre crumbs of bread I offer and a multitude be fed; that he does bear fruit a hundredfold in the little efforts I give into the service of God and of God’s people.

And you, how have you experienced fruitfulness in your life and service lately? How do you see the hand of Sower working in you? I what ways do you sense God cultivating you, preparing your soil so it may receive the seed of God’s Word with awe and wonder and give our hearts and soul to nurture the many little signs of Godlife that we have borne witness by our words and deeds and the overall direction of our lives?  God Bless!

September 20, 2014  Leave a comment

Sept 18. Of Exacting Laws and Extravagant Love

To Pray on and Ponder:  Luke 7, 36-50

Id quod volo (That which we desire most): To encounter God receiving and loving each of us with love unconditioned and mercy given underserved so that deep gratitude may spring forth from within us and lavish love may flow from us as well.

There is big difference between Simon the pharisee and the nameless penitent woman after whom our lovely familiar story from Luke’s Gospel derives its title. And the big difference is, the penitent woman knows of God’s loving mercy. The woman had already allowed to sink into her consciousness how sinful she had been before God and how God had continued to love her without condition inspite of everything. That is why only lavish love can come out of her henceforth. What other response can her heart choose to take?

Simon, on the other hand, felt too proud and justified in the law which he meticulously tries to live by all his life. And like his companion who looked down on a penitent tax collector who could not even raise his head to God while praying at the synagogue, Simon looks down on this public sinner and seeing Jesus allow her touch leads him to look down on the guest he was supposed to play good host to. With such a self-righteous and proud heart, what love can come out?

The two characters represent two dispositions before a forgiving and extravagant God. The penitent one notices God’s extravagance and responds lavishly to lavish love undeserved and noticed: “The one who is forgiven much, loves more.”

In a sense this woman’s extravagance in her show of love: her own tears to wash Jesus’ feet, her hair to dry them and a costly perfumed oil to anoint Jesus’ feet–all these rituals of hospitality were received by Jesus for what they were intended–a lavish return for lavish love undeserved. In Simon’s world of self-righteous lawfulness, the woman’s act is act of defilement. She was a sinner whose filth defiles those she touches. Of course the men she had touched in the past had probably found more pleasure than guilt in touching her. And it was probably great need that forced her into such trade. I just wonder how many of Simon’s guests were this woman’s former customers.

But what matters of course is how Jesus sees this event. And to him it was clear where the Word shines forth: pharisee or penitent, both are indebted to God because of sinfulness in their hearts. And for both God has offered mercy and forgiveness and has remitted their sins. Yet no matter how much forgiveness God has offered to a pharisee, if that pharisee does not even exercise humility to acknowledge his debt and his sinfulness, how much love can come out of his heart? On the other hand, when your heart is much like the penitent woman’s, forgiving love will penetrate your heart and from the same heart a grateful and lavish love will spring forth.

And so we pause to examine ourselves a bit. In those places in our life when we feel love is quite dry, what perhaps might be the cause of such dryness? Is it a proud self-righteousness which blinds us to our faults and makes us put ourselves above everyone else? Is it a lack of attention to gratuity, to gifts of love freely given, undeserved, unasked? Is it a depressive sort of self-loathing, which considers oneself inaccessible to God’s healing touch (if you look closely at this thinking–it is really still subtle pride masquerading as humility. Which thinking person can think that his sin is too great for God’s forgiveness)? Or that other reason with a pelagianist tone: do we even entertain the thought that by some kind of effort on our part we can work for our forgiveness by some act of penance or some good we try to do–and so rather than surrender to God’s goodness, we try to accomplish our own conversion.

In the end, self-righteous efforts will fail. The path to real conversion is faith-filled surrender to God’s lavish love. And such love will always be undeserved, and will always be given unasked. It is in that crazy logic that such love inspires in its receivers the same generous and lavish loving response.  We pray that like the penitent woman, we are healed of blindness and that we notice and pay attention, and seeing, we will know that we only have to open ourselves to God and God will do the rest.  God Bless!

September 18, 2014  Leave a comment

Sept 14. Exaltation of the Holy Cross

To Pray on and Ponder:  Numbers 21, 4b-9; Philippians 2, 6-11; John 3, 13-17

Id quod volo [That which I desire most]:  To encounter in our Lord Jesus Christ crucified, love triumphant so that we have the courage to embrace our many crosses–opportunities to show the triumph of self-sacrificing love over egoism and selfishness.

Pondering over our first reading from the Book of Numbers, our Psalm and the Gospel for today’s Catholic liturgy, made me recognize a study on what could be some meanings of the sign of the cross. The text from Numbers recounts the grumbling of the Israelites against the food the Lord has provided them as the wandered in the desert en route to the Promised Land. At one point, the character of God in the story felt completely frustrated with the people’s grumbling that he sent snakes to bite them. When many were dying of the snake bite, Moses pleaded to the Lord to save his people yet again.  And so the Lord ordered Moses to craft a bronze serpent and mount it on a tall pole, so that all who suffered from snake bite might be saved just be looking at the bronze serpent.

Medium is the message is a communication principle that is certainly true in our hymn from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The “falling and rising” dynamic that we find in the paschal song given in Paul’s letter portrays a foundational pattern in the life of Jesus Christ who was as he said, at the start in the form of God yet did not regard himself equal to God nor did he grasp at or hold on being God, rather, he emptied himself of his divinity, taking our human form and even abasing himself as a slave, to the point of suffering and death on a cross. This who downward mobility characterizes the depth of God’s love for the human family. He held nothing back in showing the depth of his love for us, and then the upward mobility begins after the story reached rock bottom.

Because of Christ’s radical self-offering, God greatly exalted him so that his name will be worshipped by all on earth and heaven, and his name be confessed as Jesus Christ, Lord, the Glory of God the Father, communicating to us now the very strength of God’s love which stands the test of time and space and even human frailty. In Jesus Christ’s radical self-offering, the very core of being human has been redeemed and has become a privileged way in which God’s salvation happens.

Such is now the law of the cross: any sinful situation may occasion for us humans, a chance to offer ourselves and selfless, self-sacrificing love to give new life to others, then God’s saving love takes over, and love is able to transform the world, with the power of Christ’s Spirit renewing creation to its very core. We ask that God gives us light and courage to be God’s love for others even when loving takes us to bear our cross.

In the Gospel, St. John depicts Jesus revealing his identity as “I am” but in very cryptic words. One of the more direct statements  included in this text has Jesus say, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own but I say only what the Father taught me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.”

Finally, the latter stanza of the our psalm for today sings: “The Lord looked down from his holy height, from heaven he beheld the earth, to hear the groaning of the prisoners, to release those doomed to die.”

Here I am led to contemplate on the sinner and the crucified Lord. This image is one of the first images that Ignatius depicts of Jesus encountering the sinner in prayer and supplication for God’s mercy. Ignatius suggests to the retreatant that after pondering in depth on the dynamic of sinfulness that has caused disorder and chaos in his or her life, he or she is invited to looked directly at the crucified Lord and be moved deeply by the love and mercy that s/he sees, asking the Lord three questions: “Lord you have given me a lot and have done so much for me, what have I done for you? what am I doing for you? what ought I to do for you?”

And here I draw some insight into some meanings of the cross for us.

First, the cross is deep love that draws us out of ourselves and closer to God who is Love incarnate. Even though the cross is a sign of the depth of cruelty and violence in humankind, it is also a sign of a love that simply refuses to accept such sinful violence to be the final word in a human life. For from the heights of the cross, we find a man broken of body but certainly not broken in spirit and has deep love enough at heart to look with love at his persecutors and say a prayer of mercy in their behalf: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And here I find echoes of St. Francis Xavier’s prayer to the crucified Lord whose Jesus flashes a smile in his face.

Hindi sa langit Mong pangako sa aki
Ako naaakit na Kita’y mahalin,
At hindi sa apoy–kahit anong lagim–
Ako mapipilit nginig Kang sambahin.
Naaakit ako na Ika’y mamalas
Nakapako sa krus, hinahamak-hamak.
Naaakit ng ‘Yong katawang may sugat
At ng tinanggap Mong kamataya’t libak.
Naaakit ako sa ‘Yong pag-ibig
Kaya’t mahal Kita kahit walang langit,
Kahit walang apoy, sa ‘Yo’y manginginig.
Huwag nang mag-abala upang ibigin Ka
Pagkat kung pag-asa’y bula lamang pala,
Walang mababago, mahal pa rin Kita!

Francis Xavier a young man who used to be given to worldly vanities is slowly drawn to this self-sacrificing love of Jesus and has his life turned upside down with the words from Sacred Scriptures that go: “For what good is there for man to gain the whole world but lose his soul in the process?”

Deep love attracts us and inspires us, draws us out of ourselves and makes us reach out to others with the same love that healed us and made us whole. This brings us to our second point.

Second, there is something about the cross that renders the venom of sin and death powerless because love has generated power for new life to spring forth from the very muck of sin. At calvary we can look at the crucified Lord and be filled with horror at the limits that proud sin and violence will go to try and bring a person down and eliminate him because he is a threat. We can also see a man broken and his ministry project effectively halted in failure with all his friends, family leaving him behind out of fear or frustration.

Yet, on the cross we see the tremendous power of love and hope. Especially in the Gospel of John, Jesus is exalted in glory even as he is crucified. For on the cross he said no to the power of sin and by his no, he effectively put a stop to sin and death. By his very offering of life, Jesus proclaims that love has conquered death, and never again can death threaten to leave humankind alone and unloved. For God will always be on the side of those condemned to the fringes and those who are left unloved and uncared for. God will always be with us. On the cross, Jesus also proclaims to the world that there is “meaning to a life of dying” and we do not need to fear death. For if death meets up with our freedom to love to the end, then our offering of life will surely bear fruit in new life for others.

Finally, we see that where sin and violence scatter and divide, the love that shines forth from the cross draws everyone and gathers all into a communion.  For looking at the man crucified, we are awakened to the love that heals us. We awaken to the love that builds among us who share the experience of being loved to the core and without condition. When are made to remember how God has loved us with such a cost, we are moved to love others in turn.

We ask that as we commemorate Christ’s triumph in his holy cross and embrace by our life’s choices the meanings of Christ’s cross for our lives, that the Spirit really enkindle the fire of love in us that we really begin to see in the cross a sign of love that is the power and wisdom of God for the salvation of the world. God Bless!

 

September 15, 2014  Leave a comment

Sept 15. The Centurion’s Faith: “Say but the Word . . . .”

To pray on and ponder:  Luke 7, 1-10.

Id quod volo [That which we desire most]: To encounter Jesus who calls us to humility in our reception of God’s Word, preparing a heart that is open to listen and to receive, to let go and to surrender ourselves to a fuller embrace of what God desires for our persons and our lives.

The faithful Roman Centurion is a character in the Jesus story that never ceases to draw from deep within me, profound awe and wonder. For one he is a character that is considered an “outsider” from the perspective of Jewish faith as well as the budding core of the Jesus followers, who by that time still considered themselves belonging to the Jewish faith community as well. As an outsider, a gentile, he is considered impure and not fit to come in the presence of Jewish shrines, holy places and persons. At the same time, it is unthinkable that he a Roman official would do favours for a slave. But these he does–he abases himself, thinks kindly of his slave and out of compassion for his servant, does what is unthinkable–he sends word to Jesus to petition a healing.

And we see how humbles himself and how he pays respect to the Jewish law which really does not cover him–he asks for Jesus to come to him as he considers himself unworthy to enter the Jewish household where Jesus’ holy presence dwelt at that time. Also he dispenses Jesus from coming to his household to make the healing, but to simply say the healing word from a distance. We (yes, we are really gentiles too, technically!) emulate the centurion’s humble act when as we approach to receive the holy eucharist, we are all asked to pray at mass, “I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.”

Jesus eagerly consented to the Roman Centurion’s plea, he wanted to go and visit the Centurion’s house. Jesus does not ordinarily mind going beyond these protocols of the Law. He does not consider himself defiled by contact with gentiles or sinners, rather his presence purifies and sanctifies people and places he encounters. Leprosy does not defile him. Instead Jesus touches lepers and they are made clean. Sinners do not defile him, neither the custom’s man Levi or Zacchaeus nor the penitent woman who washes her feet with tears, wipes them with her hair and pours extravagant perfume on them. He is not defiled by these sinners, rather, he purifies them, forgives them and makes them whole. And here, this gentile Roman Centurion will not defile him either, rather his encounter with the man will confirm his faith and his love. Jesus sees genuine faith from the Centurion and he praises it. He sees genuine love coming out of the Centurion, and he validates it and fulfills with his healing, albeit in this case, his healing from a distance.

This brings us to another curious and amazing detail: “Say but the Word.” This official makes a profound act of faith. “Lord, you do not need to pay my house a visit to cure my servant. Your Word should be enough. It works in my world–the world of the Roman army–the word of a person of authority accomplishes its intention with a simple and direct order. If authority works in my case, I have faith that it does work in your case too. Say but the Word and obedience should carry it through.” These convictions carry so much faith in them–faith in the authority of Jesus’ Word, faith in the order of things, faith in obedience of subordinates, and faith in the yet inexplicable healing power of this man Jesus. Again it takes much “dying to self” and “embracing Jesus’ world” for this Centurion to come forward and ask Jesus for a healing, and this not for himself, but for his slave.

We also appreciate how Jesus himself is transformed by this event. He must have realized how God’s Word inserts itself into things, inculturates itself in ways that receivers and hearers can more easily make sense of the Word, find meaningful connections and thus are drawn to embrace them fully. So then Jesus must have realized, time would really come that more and more gentiles would see, would express their faith and make space for God’s Word to be sown in their hearts and grow and bear fruit. Time will come when people need not become Jews in order to follow God and become disciples after the heart of God: “Amen I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such a faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and from the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the banquet of the Kingdom of heaven!” And we, friends are a fulfilment of that prophetic statement of Jesus!

We ask for this grace of humility, an ability to die to ourselves to make space for God’s Word, unworthy though we are, we God’s Word to enter into our lives and ask that God’s presence, incarnate in us purify us and sanctify us. We ask for the grace of obedience, that the Word active from within us may fully accomplish its mission in us and through us. We ask that all these lead us to our final destiny which is to recline with all people of faith in an eternal banquet of love and communion with God. God Bless!

September 15, 2014  Leave a comment

September 5. Called to be Servants of the Lord and Stewards of the Mysteries of God.

To Pray on and Ponder:  1 Corinthians 4, 1-5; Luke 5, 33-39.

Id quod volo (That which we most deeply desire): To gain a sense of what it means to be servant of the Lord and steward of God’s mysteries, the better to embrace these calls as I go about my day to day life and ministry.

It felt like a solemn send-off from the Lord when we celebrated our graduation mass for Module 4A2 for Ateneo de Davao formators. All were spent but satisfied after a whole day of designing and clinic-ing retreat programs for actual target groups in the AdDU community. Even when energies were visibly low, the group that stayed on for the much delayed mass and graduation sang their hearts as we entered into the celebration. Zeal and joy were in the air. And then when we got into the readings, there was a solemn silence.

“Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” St. Paul’s exhortation to his Corinthian community about the role of the ministry leaders just rang true for this group of formators and CIS staff. Participants in the course kept discerning in their heart if this ministry was really for them. Many could not doubt that gifts and skills akin to spiritual direction and retreat-giving were given them and these gifts were very visible in the way they conducted their direction practice from Day 2 of the course. But praying through the themes of the First Week as well as listening to topics like narcissism, sin and conversion, healing also gave them some roller coaster ride of sorts as they felt both their unworthiness for the ministry and the great loving trust that the Lord seemed to be communicating to them in this call and mission. I could only tell them from the heart, “welcome to the club” or sinners, called to be companions in mission.

As ministers, called to be servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God, we just keep at praying John the Baptist’s mantra constantly “I must decrease so He may increase.” It is God’s Word that ultimately enters into a person’s heart to heal it and transform it. That Word will have already been planted into the person’s heart, long before the Lord sends him or her to us for retreat-accompaniment or spiritual direction. Our work as stewards is to help the person notice God’s most subtle movements in the heart, and when the directee is able to fix his or her gaze on God, then we help him/her to relish and savour God’s loving touches, and be caught in awe at how God accompanies each one through healing and self-offering.

When we read the Gospel with St. Paul’s exhortation in mind, then we ministers  are reminded as well, the Word that we encounter in a directee’s heart is the same Word of God which Isaiah described in Isaiah 55, 10-11:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

As directors we put our absolute trust on that Word to accomplish its desires in the hearts of our directees–we only need to help manifest the Word’s movements into the foreground of our directee’s consciousness.

But then there’s this other quality of God’s Word–it is like a double-edged sword. And we as ministers have to heed the Gospel’s reminder that as we continue to embrace ministry from the Lord, God’s Word will also purify us and transform us. Even in the space where we encounter the Word while directing others, we often experience God speaking to us and inviting us to some conversion, some letting go of an attachment, some closer embrace of humility, honesty, courage and generosity. The Word wants itself spoken clearly and loudly that only our honesty and transparency before it can make us real transmitters of the Word. We do bracket these Director-Word conversations while we listen and focus on our directee’s process but after the sessions we also attend to ourselves and bring our own experiences to supervision, the better for us to hear God’s Word to ourselves.

Servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God then is a call many of us need to take seriously and respond to, and as we do respond with honesty and integrity, our God who calls us and sends us blesses us a hundredfold with freedom and a greater capacity for loving.

Are you one who senses the gift of ministering to others in spiritual direction or retreat-giving? Do people naturally gravitate to you when they need a sounding board, a wisdom companion, one who helps sort out things that come out of dreams or prayers, a co-discerner as one considers choices of the day-to-day or of life direction? Has your prayer become more contemplative, more listening, more a conversation with a God who seeks you out constantly to engage you in a relationship and companionship in mission? Are you one who is drawn to things Sacred and whose visions of the world and of life have grown in breadth and depth to carry God’s desires for our world? If these are your experiences, perhaps you are ripe for discernment for ministry–seek out a companion or guide to sort out this call and respond. And for our twenty-one formators in the Ateneo de Davao community, I ask your fervent prayers. More and more they will be thrust into spiritual direction and retreat work. They will need a continued shower of God’s grace for personal clarity, honesty and courage, generosity and zeal, integrity in ministry. God Bless!

September 8, 2014  Leave a comment

September 4. When the Lord Invites Someone to Ministry

 

To Pray on and Ponder:  Luke 5, 1-11.

Id quod volo (That which in this prayer we desire most):  To encounter Jesus calling us into ministry, inviting us despite our weaknesses, calling us into depth, so that our gifts may be put to use for the edification of others.

We were just two days shy of the end of our workshop, forming Ateneo de Davao formators into retreat-giving for First Week Retreats. Thankfully, the Gospel proclaimed at mass on that day as we wrapped up the theory portion of the workshop just seemed very appropriate to the group: “Go further out into the deep, lower your nets again for a catch.”

I recalled to the group that Luke places this scene at the beginning of the Public Ministry. It was the occasion when the Lord calls his first disciples, Peter, James and John. Peter was in fact the head fisherman here and on his instruction, they seemed about to call it a day, cleaning their nets by the shore, after a whole night’s work at sea without a catch.

Jesus requests to be on Peter’s boat as he preaches. It seems the crowd has grown large and was pressing on him. Having him on the boat would give him a visible stage from which to proclaim the word to the people. We assume of course that Peter could listen in as well. When the crowd was dismissed, Jesus turns to Peter and gives an instruction which could have sounded quite odd to Peter. He knew that Jesus was a carpenter and not a fisherman. But Jesus indeed bid him to launch to sea again. And so understandably Peter was being polite when he said, “Lord we were fishing all night and we had no catch.” Peter could have very well lashed out at Jesus (as was depicted in the Zeferelli film, Jesus of Nazareth,” “Will you preach to the fish now, Carpenter?”

But then they caught a big catch! Peter was shocked. Before this mystery he could fathom, Peter knelt before Jesus and pleaded, “Get away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.” But Jesus seized the occasion to communicate his call to Peter: “Fear not, from now on you will become a fisher of people!”  It’s as if Jesus was inviting Peter to use his very gifts for the saving mission of the Lord to flourish.

I thought three points for reflection were in order, especially addressed to ministers and would be ministers in the Church:

First, the Lord calls us even while we are yet sinners. It is he who remains our redeemer and saviour. A call to ministry does not mean we have already succeeded in purifying ourselves. Like Paul, some “thorn in the flesh” remains. We remain “earthen vessels” through which God’s glorious light would shine forth. Jesus calls us and tells us “fear not! I am the one who calls you. I will heal you and bless you so you may bring my blessing to my people.”

Second, the Lord calls us not only with our weaknesses, he also calls us from our giftedness. After all these gifts also come from the Lord. So to Peter, he said, “Fear not, from now on you will be a fisher of people!” Peter aside from experiencing some healing, must also have experienced deep confirmation of his identity and giftedness. God lifts us up so in our gifted and wounded state, we can become his companions in mission.

Third, Jesus calls us to remain in him in order to bear fruit in our ministry. Recall that the disciples “were at it all night” and yet did not have any catch. But when Jesus was with them in the boat, and they released their net again into the deep at his word and bidding, then the miraculous catch came! Like a branch grafted into the vine who is Jesus, we anticipate greater fruitfulness as long as we remain in the Lord and remain faithful to his bidding and Word.

And so we sent off our formators that night with the invitation to look closely at themselves as they risk a response to the Lord’s calling: How are we able to surrender ourselves fully to the Lord who calls–lights and shadows and all–so that the Lord himself may heal us, bless us and purify us for mission? How conscious and intentional have we become in offering the gift of our persons to the Lord in his missions? How strong and steadfast have we remained in the Lord as we venture forth in ministry, “so that we may bear fruit and fruit that will last?” God Bless!

September 7, 2014  Leave a comment

24 August. Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time. On Knowing Jesus Intimately.

To Pray on and Ponder: Isaiah 22, 19-23; Romans 11, 33-36; Matthew 16, 13-20

Id quod volo (That which I desire most):  That the Lord may so dwell in my heart that I grow in my intimate knowledge of him, and his thoughts become my thoughts, his loves, my loves, his dreams, my own as well that the breadth and depth and height of all that God loves become the measure of my own values and choices in life.

Our Sunday readings all pertain to people who are entrusted with keys, i.e., people who are chosen to lead others and therefore carry the expectation of knowing who God is and what God desires. For God is the real leader of his people. From the various descriptions of the first, second and third readings, the key to the ministry of leadership has much to do with an intimate knowledge of the heart of God. I recall that at the heart of the Spiritual Exercises, especially of the more advanced exercises meant for those who are discerning God’s will for their lives, the core grace that we beg for is for an intimate knowledge of Jesus, so that seeing him more clearly, we may love him more ardently and follow him more closely. For ministry leaders, an interior knowledge of Jesus Christ, the True Shepherd of God’s people is a core gift to ask, because it is by intimate knowledge that we see the kind of person Jesus is, the values he upholds and cherishes, his ways with people, his single-minded focus on gathering everyone back to his Father’s embrace. It is by this passionate love of Jesus that we are able to surrender all to God’s project and dream.

While in the first reading, the key seems to have much more to do with externals: clothing one with the robe and sash of authority, and posting one in fixed spot which is also a place of honour for his family, we have to remember too that it is a prophet of God, in the person of Isaiah who performs these rituals of transfer of power or authority.  A real prophet will not proclaim nor perform anything if not according to the Word of God that he had previously received. Certainly, Eliakim, whom Isaiah anoints here, is a leader whom God knows and who knows God.

In our second reading, St. Paul argues for how God’s seemingly mysterious plan to have included the Gentiles in the plan of salvation originally focused but rejected by the Jews may really be part of God’s wisdom. This is in order to woo, by jealousy, his own people, the Jews, into renewed covenant of God. And then Paul waxes poetic about true knowledge of God:

“Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counsellor? Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid? For from him and through him, and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

In our Sunday Gospel text we are brought back to what to my mind is Jesus’ midterm examination of his disciples. He and his disciples are midway through the journey to Jerusalem, and in one of their journey’s breaks, he pauses to ask a confirming question to his disciples. They had been after all together for quite some time now and they had all been witnesses to the many wonderful things that God has accomplished to show his love for his people through the signs and wonders that Jesus had performed. So now two important midterm questions are in order: First Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is? To this first question, it seems that the disciples could easily respond with what they have been hearing–”some say you are John the Baptist, others, Eijah, still others say you are Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” But then Jesus poses a second and more engaging question: “And you, who do YOU say that I AM?” Somehow the impact of the midterm exam changes in tone and intent. I imagine the disciples really thinking and reflecting hard. Their question deals with interior knowledge and commitment. What they say in their response would immediately reflect back on how they have been behaving thus far in community and how much they have received from Jesus’ teachings and examples. I myself would have cringed in giving an answer too quickly.

Then Father, now Cardinal Chito Tagle, once gave us Jesuit scholastics, our annual retreat. At that juncture when he was initiating us into the Second Week of the Exercises, he gave us prayer points focused on “Who do you say that I am?”  this second and more confirming question. And he said this kind of question is a classic question and like many classic questions, we never give a response which exhausts all possible meanings within the scope of the question. In the first place, the YOU, of the question, which of course pertains to myself who is struggling to respond to it, has an inexhaustible wealth of meaning. I can never reach a completeness which will not still change. I know I would have answered the question quite differently back when I was still in College and was aiming to graduate with decent credentials so I can pursue a career in agribusiness and earn my first million in due time. I would have responded differently too when I was in the thick of political seminars trying my best to contribute to social change, by raising consciousness among farmers and cooperative workers and building organized groups which would carry their agenda into the fora of good elections and advocacy in the legislature. And of course, I answer that question with greater substance now that I am a Jesuit priest who has embraced it as my personal mission to introduce Jesus to others and help others engage in intimate relationship with him.

But then Fr. Chito Tagle did not stop there as of yet. He said the other point where the question expands even more is with that latter part that says “I AM.” Even if we are gifted with a moment of consolation, when we feel that we have grasped some part of Jesus’ being and have somehow touched him where he communicates his love deeply to us, we still cannot rest and say, “yes I know him.” Even for some of us who have been in constant friendship with Jesus and have developed quite a deep familiarity with him and his values and his ways by sheer constancy and fidelity in conversation and exchange, Jesus who is “I AM” will continue to surprise us. If he stops surprising us, then we are probably relating with an idol and not with the person. For God’s ways will continue to be far removed from our ways. And so intimate knowledge will just keep on deepening as we continue engaging Jesus in relationship. It will continue to become that constantly moving target, and just like one philosopher of epistemology said of knowing as apprehending the Truth, it remains always an “almost already there” enterprise.

Peter, the would be leader of the disciples risked an answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Not only did Peter ascribe to Jesus the identity of the “Messiah,” an age-old redeemer, which is in the deepest imagination of every member of the Chosen People, but also as “Son of the Living God” which makes of this Messiah, a Divine figure, a person who is equal to God. Jesus immediately takes notice that such revelation may not have been a fruit only of human speculation but a revelation that originates directly from the Father. And so he blesses Peter and vests upon him the ministry of leadership. But even with these signs of deep interior knowledge of Jesus in the heart of Peter, we know that much, much more needed purification in the disciple. Jesus had to qualify the kind of Messiah that he is. And this qualification of suffering and death on the cross was something that Peter could not accept. And it is here where he falls quite as fast as he proclaimed his belief in Jesus’ messianic role. Pretty much like the Peter who walked on water for a moment, but instantly lost his focus on Jesus when the strong winds and big waves frightened him and made him sink.

And so we, who are certainly lesser mortals than Peter and the disciples, we ask Jesus for the grace of a genuine intimate knowledge of him the better that we might love him and follow him. We ask that in those moments when we catch ourselves risking an answer to Jesus’ confirming question, that we may be acutely aware where we are coming from when we give that answer. And that we may be clear as well to whom we are giving our response. For while Jesus so desires to pursue us and engage in intimate relationship with him, we also have to propensity to create false images of God that conveniently suits our needs and desires. In responding genuinely to this confirming question, the YOU and the I AM must be genuinely in dialogue, and the I AM must be the real focus and transforming partner in the conversation. God Bless!

 

August 26, 2014  Leave a comment

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