To Pray on and Ponder: Mark 9, 2-10
Id quod volo (That which we desire most): To encounter Jesus whose personal integrity and passion shine forth as the Father confirms his deepest identity as Son and expresses deep delight in his faithful and passionate embrace of his mission as Messiah. To notice in ourselves and take consolation when such resonant experiences happened us and made our faces shine as brightly.
I am sure that the mystery of the Transfiguration of our Lord carries meanings that are more than we can ever explain or imagine. For one, we know that this momentary epiphany of the Lord’s Divinity to his closest disciples was meant to strengthen them before the days of the Passion. Crucifixion and Death arrive, a peak into future glory and victory of our Lord over death and violence. Just for this morning though, let me propose to you three human experiences that make a person’s face shine, that perhaps help us to make sense of the deeper mystery of the Lord’s transfiguration. I’ve seen these human experiences happen to myself and to other people especially in the context of profound religious experiences.
First, I’ve seen a face shine when the person comes to terms with a reality that he or she has been struggling with. It may be a problem whose resolution has been long in coming. Or a period of grieving for some loss has passed. Or the person experience the joy of discovering a key element in a problem or coming an insight to a question that has bugged her for some time now. In these situations, the person’s face shines because things have fallen into place and each piece of the puzzle so to speak has begun to make sense in a whole picture that has finally emerged. This experience of a puzzle coming to place was in fact something that a friend shared with me when I asked her how her previous long retreat went. She said “Vic, do you remember that grade school science demonstration which our teachers did to teach us about magnetism. You know the teacher takes a sheet of paper, places some iron fillings on the paper and then she puts a magnet under the sheet and lo and behold, the iron fillings come together and form a pattern. When our teacher moves the magnet about, the whole bunch of iron fillings moves with it. You know Vic, before that retreat, I was like those scattered pieces of iron fillings, and in the retreat, God was a powerful magnet that pulled my scattered piece of self together and formed some pattern in me. And the pattern that I saw was good, very good.”
A second place where I’ve seen a person’s face shine is when a person is able to acknowledge some wrongdoing, some pattern of disorder that had been kept secret for a long time. It’s as if the person has been living in a shadow, in the dark and the guilt and shame of it all have registered on the face, in lack of focus, lack of interest and energy, some kind of tepidity or sloth. When a person comes to a moment of grace and with great honesty and courage, takes responsibility for his or her bad choices, the person’s face lights up, some burden is lifted and a sense of freedom is felt, peace and joy settle in. With nothing to hide, and no guilt being carried on one’s shoulders, the person moves about with a certain lightness and focus, a greater presence and availability. The face shines. This second point though might not be in synch with explaining our Lord’s transfiguration, because in faith we believe that no sin has found a place in our Lord’s heart even as he was fully human as we are. But perhaps we say this much: that he did struggle through temptations as well, he did experience critical moments of choice and in those moments when he makes real some choice that brought him closer to his Father or more, resolved to give himself totally in the name of love, his face lit up and shone. And this brings me to my last point.
A person’s face lights up with the highest wattage, when the person comes home to his or her deepest identity before God. When the person is able to discover and be at peace with who he or she is and proclaims it, lives by it before others in relationship, in some purpose or mission, witnesses to it without fear or shame, and more, when he or she senses others affirming him or her with delight, especially those people who matter most to him or her. With our Lord, the Gospels tell of some of these moments in his life–at baptism and now in this moment of transfiguration. He touches base with who he is, embraces more fully what his mission is all about, at this stage perhaps the prospect of fully offering himself for the people he loves with the Father confirming his deepest identity as Son, a Son who elicits God’s deep delight: “This is my Son with whom I take deep delight! listen to him.”
And so we reflect and ask: In which 2 or 3 moments in our life have we seen our face shine, as though a light from deep within has lit up like a bulb of high wattage? How much of this “transfiguration” happens on account of an experience of deep religious experience–whether of being released from the burden of guilt or shame, or experiencing some aha experience–an experience of wholeness, or perhaps the profound experience of coming into one’s own, in one’s deepest identity before God? May God gift us with this profound religious experience of encountering him genuinely and experiencing his transforming grace most intensely. And as we celebrate as a people remembering the glorious days of EDSA people power, when heroism and selfless giving of self for love our country shone forth amidst the dark ways of dictatorship and abuse of power, may the Lord grant us as a people with fortitude of faith and genuine love for country to dedicate our lives once more for the common good of our people. God bless!
February 25, 2018 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Deuteronomy 26, 16-19; Psalm 119,1-2.4-5.7-8; Matthew 5, 43-48.
All our readings for today’s Catholic liturgy make references to the Law, yet we also read in them a gift far greater than the Law, which is Covenant–covenant love of God to us and our to God. As we had reflected on in the past, a covenant bond of love was first established between God and the human family as well as among the members of the human family, even before prescriptions and ethical norms were articulated to give flesh to that bond of love.
Now that we are well into the Season of Lent, it is quite appropriate to explore a bit on what covenant love is and what its best qualities are. Our first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy teaches us that covenant love is an agreement, a bond between two parties, in this case between God and God’s people.
On the part of God, God is the presider over the covenant. God initiates it. God is giver of statutes, commandments and decrees whose observance becomes a unique expression of the following of God, a hearkening to his voice. God will also raise the people above all other nations, “raising them high in praise and renown and glory.” God will make Godself known as the one who stakes a claim on the people and one who identifies a people as God’s own. Having one’s creator-God as part of one’s identity is not a thing to take lightly. Perhaps this is why practically every Jew has the name of God included in his or her own name–Elijah for instance has Elohim and Jahweh inserted into his personal name. Maria includes a suffix which is another instance of Yahweh in a name. And so with Ezekiel, Isaiah, John, Emmanuel, etc.
On the part of the people, they are asked to observe the statutes and decrees with all their hearts and souls, taking God for their own (and renouncing all other false gods), walking God’s ways and always seeking to listen to God’s Words, thus becoming “a people sacred to the Lord.” The covenant love is therefore a commitment that binds God and people, give them their mutual identity and animates their acts of love toward each other.
In the Gospel we are given at least two important facets of covenant love as exemplified to us by God’s love. First covenant love is inclusive and universal. It does not distinguish between friends and enemies and does not delimit our response of love only to friends. In fact Jesus declares that we ought to love our enemies and even pray for our persecutors, because such is the Father’s love who brings the gift of rain to both good and bad, just or unjust. Second, covenant love is unconditional. It does not wait for some conditions to be met before it is given. Rather, a person reaches out to others, especially to those who need to be loved and cared for most, and offers a hand in love and service without condition. Not even the ethical norms and prescriptions that arise as concrete expressions of covenant love are considered preconditions of covenant love. They are rather fruit and signs of authenticity of love, rather than its precondition. In the end we realize that it is God’s Spirit dwelling in us which is the source of all loving. In the end when we allow God’s love already poured out in our hearts to move us and transform us, we will be so filled with grace and gratitude that loving others becomes second nature to us, for God loved us first. God Bless!
February 24, 2018 Leave a comment
To Pray and Ponder: Matthew 5, 20-26.
Psalm 85 is one of King David’s beautiful psalms that I take to heart. the psalm goes, “And kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth and justice shall look down from heaven.” And then adding this response, it would seem like the glory of the Lord will seal God’s presence in the land precisely with those signs of kindness and truth meeting: “The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.”
Long ago, back in university days, Dr. Leovino Garcia became my teacher in Philosophy of Society at the Ateneo de Manila. (He was also our eldest kuya in an apartment we fondly called “House of Being,” an apartment occupied by 6 or 7, mostly development-oriented Ateneo students with a faculty member or two living with us in community–but this is another story!) Doc Leo taught us among other things a piece from Paul Ricoeur which talked about what he called “ethics of conviction” and “ethics of responsibility.” Doc Leo said many of our decisions proceed from a conviction of truth, a value we keep, or even perhaps an article of faith we believe in. And we constantly challenge ourselves and others to live by and embrace the truth we hold and believe. Such is the ethics of conviction. On the other hand, for many, our choices are governed by our impulse to love, to care and to show compassion for people we cherish. These choices are often marked with concern for the neighbor, or desire to build community, a taking responsibility for the common good. Such is the ethics of responsibility.
But to me, the clincher was really how we balance the two ethics. Because when we find ourselves extremely concerned with the ethics of conviction, we sometimes become dogmatic, ideological, reductive, unforgiving, rigid and inflexible, putting much priority on ideals and principles while we end up oppressing the person next door. On the other hand, when we abandon conviction and put too much priority on ethics of responsibility, we can go to the other extreme and end up as very compromising, too soft and flip-flopping on the principles we live by. We become like a chameleon, which changes colors conveniently depending on the good and bad things that surround us. And so the psalmist must be right in lauding the kairos moment, when kindness and truth meet. But we must not ignore the second line, kindness and truth meet, when the truth we struggle to live on earth meets us with the justice that only God in heaven gives to us. Then we are able to live with integrity and love.
In this light, I understand better what the Gospel in today’s Catholic liturgy commands–if you recall while offering your sacrifice that you are in conflict with someone, leave your offering and reconcile with that person first, then come back and finish your ritual offering. It’s like saying, our worship and offering become really meaningful if the love covenant it celebrates is real in the relationships we keep. If such is the case, then kindness and truth do meet in our lives and what we remember and celebrate is really what we believe and vice versa.
And so we pause and reflect, are we the type of person who would more often prioritize people over principles? Or we of the other kind, ones who prioritize principles over people? What lights and shadows in our character and relationships have we seen playing out when we embrace one or other extreme–convictions or responsibility? How have we sensed the Lord inviting us to a good balance of both values, so that we may embrace in our lives and in our very persons, the Spirit of Christ where the meeting of Truth and Kindness comes completely. God Bless!
February 23, 2018 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Matthew 16, 13-19
Our Gospel text for today’s Catholic liturgy pertains 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 description in the text, 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.
In our 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!
February 22, 2018 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Jonah 3,1-10, Psalm 51, 3-4.12-13.18-19; Luke 11, 29-32
Id quod volo (That which we most desire): To notice our own responses to God’s invitations whether these be receptivity or resistance. To notice signs of God’s loving touches that melt away our resistances and encourage responsiveness and disponibility.
Our readings reminded me again of the wisdom in one of our Filipino sayings: “Kung gusto maraming paraan, pero kung ayaw, maraming dahilan!” Roughly translated into English, the saying means, “For those who favor something, more possiblities for its accomplishment arise, for those who do not favor it, more reasons to block or suppress it arise.”
For the pharisees and scribes opposing Jesus, no new sign would have changed their resistance and refusal to believe. The signs they asked already abound wherever Jesus went, preached and healed, and these signs and miracles were publicized all over, the news about them reaching towns and cities even before Jesus comes. But the pharisees and scribes must have very fixed notions of the Messiah, his person, his works and his mission that Jesus could never have satisfied their version of the Messiah.
Ultimately, Jesus conceded in giving them a sign and that sign is no other than the so-called sign of Jonah, which all the more confounded them in their unbelief. The sign of Jonah was a sign of death and rebirth. The Messiah was to be a sign of suffering and death and birth-ing to new life. If the sign of suffering and death makes us succumb to resistance and refusal to believe, then the possibility of new life is also blocked for us. Jesus therefore warned them about their obstinacy and hardness of heart–it will be those outside of their religious tradition who will rise to condemn them. For it will be those who do not share their Jewish belief that open their hearts to receive Jesus and be transformed, much like those from sinful city Nineveh, drawn to conversion by Jonah or the Queen of Sheba, attracted strongly by the Wisdom of Solomon. How is it that Jesus who is far greater than either Jonah or Solomon could not convince them.
“Kung gusto, maraming paraan, pero kung ayaw, maraming dahilan.” When Jesus healed the man born blind as recounted in the Gospel of John, that healing posed a big challenge to the people around the blind man. For it did appear strongly that it was the blind man who could really see God’s light and it was those who refuse to believe that we showing signs of blindness, the strongest of which is the blindness of the men who choose not to see because what they see before them is not according to their preferences–talk about bias and prejudice. These people would only see as real what they want to believe is real. And their narrow vision will always be a losing proposition, a sure formula for living life under illusion or prejudice. Blind and incapable of moving about in genuine freedom and love.
We therefore ask, when we come to God and ask for signs, are the signs we ask, meant to constrict God into doing what we want or are these signs meant to confirm our faith in God’s wisdom and providence? The latter disposition leaves the outcomes of our prayer entirely in God’s hands and we leave God complete freedom to direct our lives according to God’s plans and desires. When we begin to show signs of “creating God in our own image” by testing him with impossible signs, we pray that we go back to the sign of Jonah. Look at the crucified Lord and converse with a God who has given all to us to show us how much God loves us. Perhaps we will realize more deeply that no other sign is needed. God Bless!
February 21, 2018 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Isaiah 55, 10-11; Psalm 34, 4-7.16-19; Matthew 6, 7-15
Our readings teach us about prayer, efficacious prayer. The first reading features my all-time favorite Isaiah 55 couplet on the Word which for myself is always a joy to remember and share:
“Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
God’s fidelity is such that every word that comes out from God’s mouth journeys only with the efficacy of a project accomplished and a promise fulfilled. Much like God’s creative word in the first book of Genesis–you can image light shining forth just about the moment God proclaims, “Let there be light!”
Jesus exhorts us not to pray babbling words. Jesus wants us to consider that words are efficacious instruments which can be made into vessels of God’s will, if we use them with discernment, sincerity and focused desiring.
It is within this loop of promise-fulfillment that we find the mystery in the kind of prayer Jesus teaches us and that we are asked to recall and practice especially in this grace-filled season of Lent. Jesus invites us to pray to God and to encounter in God the same fidelity, constancy, efficacy and consistency. The God for whom we accord praises, in whom we entrust our daily needs and from whom we ask for pardon and strength against the wiles of the evil one, is also the God who always assures us “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find . . . .”
Thus when we feel that some of our prayers remain unanswered, it is never because God does not like us and does not want to grant us what we wish. Perhaps the first thing to ask is–does my prayer reflect something that God would desire for me at this time, in these proportions, in this form?
And then a second thing to explore perhaps is–do I really, really want this for myself? will I really be, genuinely happy if I receive this at this time? will having this be growth-promoting for me or destructive?
If I believe in my heart that God loves me, and God does as God promises, and further that when I pray, the Spirit of God groans deep within me, struggling to join my prayer into God’s own prayer, then the seeds of genuine desire in my prayers are good as fulfilled. For in those seeds, the phrase “May your Kingdom come” is being fulfilled as we pray it. Deep within us our deepest desires, those desires that make up our Christic identity, is the same as God’s desires for us. In those desires, “God’s will be done” is not only a prayer, but a description of what is real.
Now I know better why Isaiah 55, 10-11 consoles me deeply. For I have a sense that in God’s plan, in that part of the loop that says, “[My word] shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it,” I will be part of what returns to God, I will be part of that which Jesus will gather into one flock to bring back to the Father, and that will happen not even when I see in myself so many wounds. That will happen notwithstanding all the corruption and selfishness around me. That will happen even when my Church faces difficult transitions, not even when the Pope resigns.
My loving God promised to speak God’s efficacious Word to me constantly and I know God always delivers, even when in God’s Wisdom, God so designs it that the power of the Word passes through the fickle freedom of our human hearts. God Bless!
February 20, 2018 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Leviticus 19, 1-2.11-18; Matthew 25 31-46
Id quod volo (That which I desire most): That in Jesus, we see a human person responding to God’s love in love incarnated and made visible in love of neighbour. That finding life in Love’s very Source, we are moved to love the people whom God loves.
This Monday of the first week of lent, we are reminded by our readings of the close link between love of God and love of neighbour. The first reading from the book of Leviticus shows a God who proclaims to his people how holiness translates into concrete acts of love and justice. The Book of Leviticus normally documents liturgical rules that is why perhaps the accent placed on “holiness.” Yet what we find in these rules are more detailed specifications of the Commandments pertaining to love of neighbour. When we read the Gospel on the Final Judgment in the light of this first reading we see how our final communion with God in the afterlife are connected closely to the love we exercise especially for the least of the brethren, the one most in need of our love and our sense of justice and our compassion.
These teachings on the close link between love of God and love of neighbour always remind me of the genius of one of the more radical renditions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus–that wellspring of genuine love of God and neighbour. This to me is given in the song whose lyrics were composed by Jesuit poet Fr. Albert Alejo and rendered into song by our Jesuit pioneer of Filipino liturgical music, the late, Fr. Eddie Hontiveros.
Nang Buo Kong Buhay
Albert Alejo, SJ-Eddie Hontiveros, SJ
O Mahal na Puso, O Loob ng Diyos,
Kapintig ng bayan ang Iyong tibok,
Puso ko’y pukawin, hanggang kumilos,
Magpasya’t mangatawang ibigin ang Krus.
At managot sa kapwa na mahal sa ‘Yo,
Nang buo kong buhay, nang buong kaluluwa,
Nang buo kong isip, nang buong lakas,
Kahit kamatayan, aking malasap.
O Mahal na Puso, ng Butihing Diyos,
Batis ng pag-ibig, sa kapwang kapos,
Tao’y ‘Yong hinanap nang ‘Yong matubos,
Sana’y matularan Ka sa paglilingkod.
Roughly translated, with much apology to Fr. Albert, the hymn goes,
And take responsibility for the others, beloved as well to You.
With all my life, with all my soul,
with all my mind, and all my strength.
Even if this means offering my life for them.
O Most Sacred Heart, My One Good God,
Fount of love for the least of my brethren,
You sought after the lost so you may redeem them,
I pray that I can serve them as you did.
February 19, 2018 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Mark 1, 13-15
Id quod volo (That which I most deeply desire): To look deeply into my heart and notice the core fear that is of the serpent’s subtle suggestion, namely “that God does not desire me to be like God.”
I don’t think that the serpent’s suggestion in Genesis 2 was really simply a matter of eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This may have some bearing too, for in the story, God did forbid Adam and Eve from eating that fruit. But for me the more serious of temptations that the serpent suggests is to make us believe that God would not like us to be like God, that though God has confirmed that we are part of that creation which he describes with delight as “everything is good,” simply, God still means to maintain our separation from him, keeping us from really coming close to his image and likeness, for we are simply weak and vulnerable creatures. In a sense it is a subtle suggestion that strikes our core and gives rise to all sorts of emptiness and fear that perhaps propel us to grab on any other creature that can promise to fill our lack, and assuage our fears of aloneness, of poverty, of vulnerability.
Beatrice Bruteau, a woman religious philosopher once wrote that the dynamic of sin begins with this fear and emptiness. We choose to fill our lives with creaturely attachments which promise to fill our hearts and save us from our fears. And when other people challenge us and mirror our attachments to us, we become even more defensive and grasping and grabbing because divestment from these attachments can feel like annihilation and death of our ego. It is when defensiveness hardens our attachments into real idols (aka., other gods) and when we begin to see our well being as dependent on these creatures that we actually turn away from God and succumb to sin and vice, which of course further erode our character. Like Adam and Eve we end up alienated from ourselves (notice that they hid in shame for they were naked); alienated from other persons (as with all the successive blaming that ensued after the fall), alienated from other creatures (the blaming and banning of the serpent and the cursing of the ground) and finally, alienated from God (they hid and didn’t want God to see them).
Consider then temptations our Lord faced in the desert, as summarily described to us in Gospel of Mark and you find the more usual stuff of temptation–things, power and renown, which the demon seems to suggest to Jesus to lure the latter to take on redemption of himself or others into his own hands: “Rely on bread rather than feed on God’s Word constantly and faithfully; show yourself important to God by falling from the temple parapet and having yourself rescued by God’s army of angels–what a show! and then, worship me (Satan) and receive power over the whole world!” St. Ignatius of Loyola, the master of discernment suggests that we notice the pattern of “Satan’s strategy” as it unfolds in our own lives: the evil one deceives–first its lures us into entrusting our lives in riches, then stirs in us a desire for honors, for prestige, for renown that this world ordinarily gives to its kind and finally, power and pride–a sense of declaring ourselves independent, capable of living by ourselves, of becoming so filled with pride that we look at our God glaringly and say: “I don’t need you!” Of course even if we are able to say these words with pride and bravado, we also know deep in ourselves that this statement of a bloated ego is founded on a big lie. Everything we have and hold is gift. All our riches and talents are gifts. Our capacity to feel, to reason, to choose, to love–all these are gifts. In fact our very life and breath are gifts.
And so St. Ignatius gives us the wise counsel–to fix our gaze on Jesus Christ, our Eternal Lord and King who offers us a different strategy, one that does not only counteract Satan’s strategy but also opens up a path of renewal for every disciple who wants to offer himself to our Lord. And if Satan’s strategy was riches–> honors–> pride. Christ’s on the other hand was to invite people into poverty–> humiliations–> humility. And these all translate into a humble entrustment and surrender of our lives before our Provident God, for we are creatures, we are servants, we are friends who are now adoptive children of God. Take note, children of God.
For this issue, I give special thanks to Mr. Eric Armusik (cf. http://www.armusik.com/) who generously allowed an image copy of his painting, “Temptation of Christ” to be used in this piece. For those of you who have the means, please support his ministry. Thanks. God bless!
February 18, 2018 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Isaiah 58,, 9b-14; Psalm 86, 1-6; Luke 5, 27-32
A most moving image, if we just stay and really look at it and contemplate it: Caravaggio’s portrayal of the Call of Matthew, which we commemorate on this day. Caravaggio depicts Jesus as pointing a finger in calling Levi’s attention while our man, Levi, still holds on to the money that surrounded his life as a tax collector.Jesus calls Levi to become the disciple Matthew even while he is in the midst of his sinful trade.
This has become even more moving for me as our brother Jesuit, Pope Francis uses precisely this Gospel image portrayed by Caravaggio to illustrate his own self-image of a sinner, called by God to the Petrine ministry, and how he responds in a spirit of surrender, a spirit of penitence.
The Gospel of Matthew portrays Matthew (a self-portrait?) as having looked Jesus in the eye and having heard Jesus’ call, he stands up, leaves everything and follows him–just like that. I wonder how Caravaggio came to his interpretration of Levi grasping at the money, but it does seem more ordinary and well, “normal.” Many of us receive the call just as we are struggling with our different attachments, our ambitions, personal dreams, the lifestyle we have been used to; our families and friends, sometimes even intimacies. But then God somehow intrudes and overturns our life’s plans, awakens us that other desires have been lying fallow, deep in our hearts, and now they have surfaced. And some nagging feeling comes to the surface that peace will not return to us until we consider the question of this new call, and face it squarely. Only that when we do begin to entertain the question and begin to see the costs involved, fear and resistance join the mix of fascination and attraction. By then, this calling God will have become true to how Rudolf Otto refers to him: mysterium tremendum et fascinans–a mystery so overwhelming as it is fascinating and attractive!
And if we are to believe St. Paul in his beautiful description in our first reading, our respective calls goes beyond personal giftedness, which it really is for starters. God seems to be giving each of us the gift of call not only as a sign of God’s personal love for us, but also as God’s way of building communion among us.
“Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,” says St. Paul, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one Body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism: one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all and in all. But grace is given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift . . . to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ.”
This truth really makes me pause in awe and wonder. I cannot simply look at friends and moreso, companions in ministry through the lens of ordinary relationships or even work. Each one really represents a gift of God to me, and beyond this, a gift of God to the Church. Sometimes too, when I experience conflict in ministry, I can stand and pause and ask, why is God sending me this person who makes my life difficult? And why am I being sent to this person, and perhaps I am also making their lives difficult? Perhaps our mutual embrace of each other in each other’s life and ministry promises to be redemptive for each one. Perhaps our collaboration will give us a lesson or two about life, about service, about ourselves, about God.
Second I am also caught in awe and wonder when I pause and think of my own calling, my own vocation. Through the many years of sensing this God calling me constantly to companionship and collaboration in ministry, and through the many years I have tried, stumbled and rose up to try again to respond to God’s call, this sense of being gift to others and to the Church has also been quite palpable. I try to embrace this gift consciously and intentionally, taking responsibility to nurture it as a sign of my good stewardship of it and for love of God and others. And many times when I think of my own weaknesses and sinfulness, I say to myself, surrendering these to God’s healing is part of my stewardship of the gift of call. For unsurrendered parts of myself which resist God’s grace can do damage to the Body of Christ. On the other hand, parts of me which work in harmony with God’s ways are like what Ignatius say–instruments conjoined with the hands of God, totally docile, pliable, available to the inspirations and orientations of the Creator-God himself.
Here, the words from the Prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading makes sense: when I make available all that I am and do in the service of compassion and caring for others, this very exercise of loving heals me, enlightens me, makes me grow and expand.
Finally, I am also caught in awe when I think of fruitfulness of call. St. Paul says the promise is that the Body of Christ will come to full stature as our communion of diverse gifts deepens and strengthens us in our ministry. The Psalm response proclaims: “Teach me your paths Lord.” The Lenten program is set. No stone will be left unturned, nobody will be left without hearing the word proclaimed to them and penitence invited of them. It is a great promise. The harvest will be rich even if there remains bad soils here and there in the field. Even if both wheat and weeds grow in the same field. So long as we plod on and continue to be faithful to the gift we have received and continue to help each other, bringing out the best in each other, we will all be part of that “growing into full stature, growing into full maturity!” These despite appearances, despite resistances. The final word will be always, the victory of love and communion. And it all begins with a call “Follow me,” and quick and quite ready response: “he stood up, left everything, and followed him.” God bless!
February 17, 2018 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Isaiah 58, 1-9a; Matthew 9, 14-15
Id quod volo (that which I desire most): To encounter Jesus who calls me to an asceticism that bears fruit in care and compassion for others, especially those most in need; and a self-sacrifice that flowers into charity and love for the people whom God loves.
Today I fondly remember and pray for groups like AKKAPKA and Fasters for Justice. Back in the early 80’s, our La Ignaciana Apostolic Center, with the late Fr. Jose Blanco, S.J. as one its leaders, began to organize a peace advocacy group called AKKAPKA (nb. I believe, the acronym means Alyansa ng mga Kilusan para sa Kapayapaan at Katarungan or roughly, Alliance of Movements Advocating Peace and Justice). This movement advocated active non-violence as a mode of promoting peace and justice followed radical teachings of the Gospel. When Senator Benigno Aquino was assassinated, AKKAPKA together with many other groups began a series of mobilizations and boycotts of brand products produced by known cronies of then President Ferdinand Marcos. Thus many of these mobilizations had that quality of using peaceful means, and the aim of winning over opponents, two qualities that became a clear mark of the EDSA Revolution when it irrupted. Foreigners and tourists could not wonder enough how a revolution of that scale happened without bloodshed and with four days of prayerful celebration rather than hateful curses, chants or even outright violence and killing.
And I thought, much power began from the days of the Fasters for Justice. They would come together on Fridays to fast and pray for the country. Then when the opportune came from this core group began many creative active non-violence campaigns like the weekly protest runs by the April twenty-one movement or ATOM, or the boycotts led by then candidate Cory Aquino who was perceived then to be that widow cheated by Marcos of her victory in the snap Presidential elections.
In Isaiah, the Lord was quite clear with the kind of fasts the Lord desires: “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”
For the Lord, this kind of fast will heal Israel’s wounds from sinfulness–they will heal alienation of individual from themselves and their God, as well as heal them from alienation from others.”Light shall break forth like the dawn” says the Lord, “and your wound will quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’”
It is in this light that we understand the Lord’s actuations in the Gospel. God shows Godself in solidarity with the needy, but also in solidarity with the sinful people who repent and take responsibility for the damage they have done with the sins they have committed. The disciples will be with the bridegroom until he is taken from them which is when they grieve and proclaim a fast. For ultimately what penances and fasts are meant to accomplish is to dispose a repentant heart and a generous spirit. The word “asceticism” comes from the Greek word, “askesis,” a word that is normally used in the field of athletics and the word means “saying ‘no’ to things to be able to say ‘yes,'” for instance to say ‘yes’ to that championship. We say “no” to food in order to help give the inner spirit the focus and intensity it needs to be able to dedicate oneself to loving others. In other words, the “freedom from” that we obtain from our fasting and penances, are meant to bear fruit in “freedom for”, i.e., to bear fruit in love, compassion, charity and care–a commitment which unites us deeply with God and with neighbour. May the Season of Lent that has begun be for us occasion to exercises asceticism so we may grow in the mysticism of love and service. And yes please pray that more such groups of Active Non-Violent change and Fasters for Justice, may rise and help our country experience a radical conversion of hearts and healing of structures especially as the days seem to have returned when the powerful play with power and law with such impugnity and extremist violence is once more on the rise. In such polarizations, chaos and unrest may also develop fast. God Bless!
February 16, 2018 Leave a comment