To Pray on and Ponder: Luke 14,15-25
Id quod volo (That which I desire most): To recall moments of God finding us and welling up deep joy in our hearts.
I felt amused reading the Scripture Text offered to us today’s Catholic liturgy. The Gospel has us see a believer experiences joy in seeking God out. From my own experience, I can very well resonate. Our constant search for God brings deep, genuine joy, especially when we do it not only in dire times but also in good times. Yet in the Gospel text for today, it is not we who seek and find God, it is God who seeks and finds us, and experiences joy and delight in finding us. And once more I reflect on experience and say to myself, it’s true, it is not really God who is hiding from me and then I find God and experience joy in finding God, no many times it’s really me who is hiding from God, it is really I who gets lost along the way, gets distracted or diverted. And it is often God who finds me and brings me home.
It is quite consoling to contemplate the God figures in these first two story segments which prepare us for the bigger parable of the prodigal son: the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost sheep. The story’s plot line is quite simple and straightforward: something is lost –> the lost thing is found –> the owner is overjoyed and calls for celebration. And after each parable, Jesus punctuates his telling of the parable with the image of the Father rejoicing in heaven and taking delight upon the return of a penitent.
God finds us and many times, when God finds us, God receives us again and again where we are when he finds us. We find that God does not make conditions for our return. He does not need any bribe of an offering or an achievement to reward us of God renewed presence. God simply takes delight that we have been found and that we will be restored to his flock.
We pray that we too feel that deep joy at our reunion with God and that humility takes over seeing this image of a God who goes out of his way to seek us out and meet us along the path where we were lost and found. God Bless!
September 13, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Wisdom 9, 13-18b; Luke 14, 25-33
Id quod volo (That which I desire most): That we may find and embrace even but a fraction of God’s Wisdom so we may be able to offer pure and focused hearts to the service of our Lord and our neighbor, seeing as God sees, loving as God’s love, and living with the consequences of such love.
Reviewing yesterday’s readings which we read and proclaimed in the CIS RDL launch, we mull even more deeply on God’s wisdom in the light of the recent Davao bombing.
Finding refuge in and embracing God’s Wisdom. This proposition will always be easier said than done. While all will certainly want the fruits of a life led according to God’s Wisdom because of the fruits it promises–peace, justice, righteousness and gentleness through life–the path to be followed to get there is not as easy a choice to make. Because “the just one” according to the sinister characters described in the Book of Wisdom, is obnoxious to them, blocks their wrongdoing and punishes them for their violations. The wicked ones who suffer from the righteousness of the just–they simply resolve to fight back by torturing the just and framing them to die a shameful death. “God will protect and defend them anyways.” They say with impunity as if to justify their evil plots.
This scenario is lifted from Sacred Scriptures. It is not a testimonial account of some responsible political detainee arrested for his work for the poor or human rights advocacy. Neither is it the murmurings of those left behind by innocent people mistaken to be targetted drug addicts or pushers who are summarily killed because they are suspected villains of the state-propelled drug war plot line. But the wisdom text certainly could have been a real-life martial law scenario.
“Embracing wisdom from above” has been a constant theme of Christian call since the days of Cain and Abel. Whenever worldly desire makes us covet and dominate others and kill, even, men and women who allow themselves to be ruled by a wisdom from below, a kind of thinking and valueing that is ruled by “jealousy and selfish ambition” arise and becomes the rule of the day and so very subtly begin to bring about “disorder and every foul practice” which then leads to wars and conflicts. James writes that these conflicts stem from irrational passions that wreaks havoc in our hearts and makes us lose our reason when we deal with others to obtain what we crave for. Our reading of reality becomes myopic and distorted: we only limit ourselves itto seeing that which we want to see, the very things that we crave for. All others, especially those which block our possessing what we want, all these have to go. We will eliminate them.
Jesus’ message in the Gospel represents the most radical expression of “wisdom from above” yet given. Even as he was teaching how the Son of Man will become the persecuted just man described in the Book of Wisdom, his disciples were not listening. They were busy arguing as to who among them was the greatest. The irony in this story simply makes our hearts coil. Here was Jesus, nearing the end of his career, and his very followers were still filled in their hearts with the wisdom of this world. Will he die in vain? At the rate the disciples are going, they would be the first ones to desert Jesus when events prove Jesus’ predictions right. (And yes, all of them except John flee for their lives once Jesus is arrested!)
Yet, Jesus continued to hope in these people he called and chose. He saw in their moment of argument a teachable moment. Though the world would consider greatest the strongest and most powerful among you, in the Way of the Kingdom, in God’s world, it is the least and the servant of the least who is considered the greatest.
In yesterday’s Sunday Gospel, Jesus further reminds his disciples, “Anyone who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” Freedom of heart from every form of egoism and avarice is needed to that the disciple can really offer to the Lord and his service, a pure and focused heart and a magnanimous, zealous spirit.
Jesus might even have added what James proclaimed in his letter: and no matter what we see on the surface, ” the wisdom from above is pure and peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruit. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate in peace.” We may by our righteousness earn the ire of the wicked in our midst. We may be subject to revilement and persecution. But the purity in our heart and the humility that our service proclaims will invite others to also offer their love and support to the people most needy and vulnerable.
We who desire to choose to embrace the Wisdom from Above will soon see that we choose a road not usually taken. By jesus-and-young-manour lives, we will “crucify the world” but “the world itself will crucify us too.” And in such process of love absorbing the violence of evil, in such process is the world saved. For the passive ones simply endure and allow evil to wreak havoc and sow violence. But the vengeful ones fight violence with counter violence and in the process increases and intensifies violence and suffering in the world. Those who meet the world with Wisdom from Above lead their lives saying their firm “no” to violence and “yes” to life. But often times, people who say yes to life, offer their own life to say it, as Jesus himself did.
Some questions for reflection thus: What sense of void or vaccum in our hearts feed into our fears? How much do we tend to use possessions and abusive relationships to fill in the void inside us? When we are threatened to lose control over the usual inordinate attachments we hold on to, how easily do we have recourse to violence and domination to defend and protect our turf? How secure are we in our hearts that God will always provide for us and sustain us that we are able to share what we are and what we have to those in greater need? How much do we embrace God’s Wisdom in the way we live? For such profound graces, we ask for God’s wisdom and love. We ask that if our turn to face the question (of embracing God’s Wisdom) comes, we may be ready to answer as well with our own lives, even when our answer may be seen as foolishness by the world. God Bless!
September 5, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Luke 13, 22-30
Id quod volo (That which we desire most deeply): A graced remembering of the story of my relationship with the Lord and a heartfelt gratitude for the many ways this relationship felt like “entering a narrow gate” that has become a transforming influence in my life and person.
For the more “substantial” or “weightier” (aka “fat”) people like myself, entering a narrow space is rarely a pleasant experience. I recall my recent EVA Air flight from Toronto to Taiwan, i.e., the long haul part of my return trip. I had no choice but be seated in that part of Economy seats by the wall where they often assign those caring for babies. Like the seats on emergency row, these seats have fixed sides, no movable arms and so I was forced to rest (more like stress!) my big legs onto a narrow space that I instantly recalled my old philosophy lessons on the metaphor of Procusthes’ Bed, where a long-legged person is forced into a short-sized bed, by cutting off part of the legs, instead of creating a long bed to accommodate the long-legged person. Entering a narrow space, much less, forcing to fit a big person onto a small space is hardly a pleasant experience for the big person.
And so I can reasonably expect this prospect of engaging the Lord in relationship or commitment here likened to entering a narrow gate (of the sheepfold) to be nothing but a negative experience. And yet when I recall my experience with the Lord, I don’t see negativity as the dominant tone, rather it is one of deepening, growth, maturing, peace, a sense of fit, i.e., a sense that “I am in the right place and right time,” and more importantly warmth, at-homeness in love and a sense of lightness and joy.
If there was a sense of negativity it is when initially, entering the narrow gate meant, stripping. After all a fat guy with so much baggage will surely find it hard to enter the narrow gate. And so when cutting body flab is a more difficult option, getting rid of excess baggage is perhaps an easier choice. Entering the narrow gate means that initially we have to reduce what we bring with us to the really essential things and relationships. We only carry things and relationships that are essential to our person and mission. I recall a time when I was studying in Rome. A companion Jesuit brought me to the hermitages in Assisi which St. Francis and his companion friars used. The entrance doors into the hermitages were so small I couldn’t enter the rooms comfortably and especially when I carried my back pack with me. And so I had to take off my back pack and enter the narrow gates side ways even, until I reached the central cell. Now don’t ask me what happened coming out the hermitages. I just remembered I thank God he called me to become a Jesuit and not a Franciscan.
Second, entering the narrow gate also meant becoming more and more focused in the kind of apostolic response I give to the Lord’s calling–substance-wise and energy-wise. In my life I have seen more and more clearly what gifts in myself I can and must offer to the Lord’s vineyard and how much of my time and energy and treasure I must surrender in order to prepare this response to bear optimal fruit, of course, always with God’s grace and providence. And I as I get older, I know too that my own talents and treasure, alas even my own body will systematically diminish and more and more focusing will be needed perhaps even more and more trusting in the Lord’s providence will be needed.
Third, entering the narrow gate also meant what St. Paul describes as “It is no longer I but Christ who lives in me” experience. Pope Francis says, as we enter the narrow gate it is Christ himself who enters into our lives and persons and takes over our visions, our dreams, our capacities until we see the world in God’s eyes, and love it with God’s love that the whole of our lives and service becomes Christ’s own, so that ultimately it is the narrow path of the cross that will define our life and work. With the cross though is the graced promise of new life. And so narrow gives way to a bright and broad space for new life, new light, new energy. At this side of the fold, the images on God’s promises are always portrayed in abundance: feasts, bright halls, mansions with many rooms, mustard seed turned into big trees, a net that can contain hundreds of fish of many kinds, etc. etc. Though I was asked to leave family and property, God promises to provide me with a hundredfold of these. I know, I have experienced these many times over.
And so we pause and ponder: First, what has your “narrow gate” experience been like? Second, In your life of service and commitment, how has God’s response to your offering been? What do you notice about the truth (or falsity) of Jesus’ promise of “a hundredfold” in your own experience? Bring these reflections to a hearty conversation with the Lord, bringing to him any experience of gratitude or resignation or complaint, whatever your prayer may bring you to notice and bear. God Bless!
August 20, 2016 Leave a comment
May 22. Solemn Feast of the Holy Trinity. Contemplating our Triune God and God’s Ever Intensifying Love for Us
To Pray and Ponder On: Proverbs 8, 22-31. Psalm 8. Romans 5, 1-5. John 16, 12-15
Id quod volo (That which we desire most): To contemplate our Triune God and be in awe with the ever-intensifying love that God reveals to us, food for our hearts and souls, exemplar for our journeys.
“We have peace in God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . and we boast in hope of the glory of God . . . because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Because an eternal God is really beyond any time and space, there is no sense of speaking of God as “ever intensifying love,” except to say that within the Eternal Godhead dwells Jesus–the Word who became flesh and who continues to be the human in the Triune God–one who was of human flesh, time-bound, culture-bound, a man who grew up a good Jew and in whose life and teaching and death and rising, arose a new religious tradition bearing his name–Christianity. We can also think of “ever intensifying love” as the ever growing reception in our hearts of the constant love being poured by God into the human family. Creator-God, Redeeming God, Sanctifier and Giver of Gifts: the Father, Son and Spirit as a Trinity has revealed to us a God whose constant love has grown in intensity in our hearts as we gained more insight into the core of God’s person through generations.
Not only has God been originally revealed as Creator, but even as we write, God creates us, we draw life’s breath from God moment by moment. And every breath is witness to a God who constantly raises in us holy desires to be good, to do good, and to be more and more like God in love and service. God did not only create humans in that far distant beginning of time, no, God is Creator, moment by moment in the very foundation of our existence: sustaining us, making us grow, penetrating the most interior parts of our person, moving our hearts to love and give of ourselves to God and others.
But more than giving these gifts of creation moment by moment, we also receive this Creator-God as redeemer, as one who pays ransom for us by his offering of life. Sin has rendered each of us indebted, enslaved in the wiles of the evil one. Yet this God has drawn the evil one into a wager it could not refuse. God’s wager made the evil one think that love was just too weak to withstand the violence of power-hungry leaders or cowardly followers or messianic dreams gone political and women devotion gone too emotional. God’s wager was just too attractive to refuse: the Word of God in the Messiah crucified on the cross and silenced forever? What a victory for hell! The Messiah’s ministry failed and folded up, followers all fleeing in fear?
Yet death was not to be the last word in Calvary. When Jesus breathed his last–he also unleashed the Spirit who was to be the completion of his life–the love poured out for all. Love was to be the final word in Calvary, and this time Love was not to be silenced, for even death, love has conquered and vanquished. Love would break the walls of time and space, and shatter even the power of sin and death. No human experience would henceforth be inaccessible to God’s life and love.
Now the Spirit of God can penetrate into the inmost recesses of the human soul, dwell in the heart and carry out the sanctifying action of God: recalling to us everything that Jesus taught and did, inspiring us with virtues and dispositions that help us divest of anything worldly and resistant to God and elevating our desires from the base and sensual to those that are deeply spiritual and directed heavenward. That we are human, need no longer be excuse to be worldly, for our Lord remains human, and is gloriously Divine as well. And all of us are called to the same destiny. We need no longer murmur, “sapagkat kami’y tao lamang, marupok at mahina” (because we are mere humans, weak and vulnerable), because Jesus enables us to say, “kami’y tao at sa bawat sandaling kami’y tunay na nagpapakatao, higit kaming nagiging maka-Diyos” (We are humans and as we become more truly human we become more and more truly divine too). At the heart of this pagpapakatao which I’d dare translate into, “sanctification,” is the Spirit of God at work, converting us, healing our every unfreedom, elevating our desires to make them holy, and forming us into those facets of Christ which our own charisms and cluster of gifts suggest.
We thank this Triune God for gently revealing Godself to us: Creator-Redeemer-Sanctifier! Three persons in one God who continues to abide in us until Christ can gather all in all through the sanctifying work of his Spirit onto the final days when Christ will restore us all back to the Father’s loving embrace. God Bless!
May 23, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Acts 2, 1-11; 1 Corinthians 12, 3-7.12-13; John 20, 19-23
Id quod volo (That which we desire most): That the Spirit prepare us to become worthy temples of God’s love and life–a sanctuary for the Sacred in the world, a space from which God may reach out to others in need of creative renewal and re-charging that only God’s Breath can bring.
On this Solemnity of Pentecost, our Liturgy invites us to look back at our lives and see the invisible dynamism of life and love that renders God most intimately present to us as individual persons and as whole communities. Unlike Jesus who has shown us the visible, bodily form that makes the person of God known to us, the Holy Spirit is an invisible principle, a shapeless person of God but one whom Jesus sends with particular missions. We contemplate this unique gift of the Third Person of the Trinity because all our lives as creatures, person and Christian disciples, even missioners or apostles are given life and are sustained by this Spirit.
First the Holy Spirit is ruach, life-giving breath of God. He breathed life into creation even to the point when he fashioned humans from the earth and then breathed God life into them. But recall back the seven days of creation and we find various configurations of this invisible principle which transforms life at every stage to create order where there was chaos, light where there was only darkness, life to fill the Sacred Spaces built through years of separating and gathering–vegetation, birds, beasts, fish. And then as creation becomes more complex, the Spirit brings about movement and freedom, reason and affection, various levels of desiring whether by wishing, willing or outright wanting. Only in a matter of further “complexifying” that the creature who reasons out becomes also the creature who works and loves. At every stage a new form of excellence, a broader power to share the Creator’s work, and a deeper capability to love and give of oneself to others and to the world. Ruach is God’s breath, and where God breathes in creation, God’s life touches creatures and the rest of further creation happens over and over–ordering, movement, multiplicity and complexity, reason, freedom and at its peak, love, even perhaps the self-sacrificing love that Jesus himself exemplified.
This life shared to us by the outpouring of the Spirit of God in our lives also builds communication and inspires communion despite the fact that we gather as people who have received different gifts. By the action of the Spirit, unique people find themselves looking at their own gifts, precisely as gifts–things meant to be shared to others and things that build community.
Second, the Holy Spirit gives birth to the Church. By the action of the Spirit, we awaken to faith and this faith draws us to a communion with like beliefs and life religious practice. The Spirit seals us into the communion whose head is Christ, by sealing the baptism and confirmation we have received. The same Spirit showers many gifts and charisms to build individual members and to build the Church, with the Spirit always recalling to the Church the things that Christ taught and did. By this Christ memory, the Church gives visible spaces and occasions for the Spirit to breathe again and again new life, and newfound occasions to share and rejoice God’s forgiveness, mercy and communion among the members of the community.
Third, the Holy Spirit renews individuals from deep, deep within. As we have seen in the Gospel passage given today in Catholic liturgies, the Risen Lord appears before his disciples–at this moment dejected and desolate because they had failed their Lord, because they had fled out of fear, forgetting all the wonderful things they had witnessed through out the Public ministry of Jesus. And in this appearance, Jesus’ first words are of peace. Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into them and at once, this fearful, motley group of desolate disciples regain their courage and faith, recognized Jesus for who he really is, and found their voice so they can proclaim the Good News of our Lord which brings about an era of peace, justice, compassion and forgiveness. Fearful disciples become transformed into courageous and zealous proclaimers, they become missioners and become ambassadors of the Lord’s presence and peace.
Like all of God’s gifts, the Spirit is always gift offered to us by our Loving God and gifts offered are still gifts to be received in love and freedom. We may then ask ourselves some reflection questions: first, in my life, how far deeply into my interiority do I allow the Spirit of God to penetrate me, dwell in me and transform me into a fitting temple for God’s love and life? or do I simply keep the Spirit hovering outside of me, waiting patiently to enter into the murk and chaos of my life to begin creation anew with his “Let there be Light!”; second, how far do I allow the Spirit to labour in me and give birth to Church? How much do I embrace and take responsibility for the faith the brings me into communion with others, so the faith I have received and was baptized into becomes a real personal choice that I live not only when I celebrate Eucharist with other Christian Catholics but also in my day to day, allowing my baptismal vows to flourish and mature into a genuinely discerned and committed, Christian life, mindful of the gifts and charisms I have received which I turn offer to build up the Church I embrace.
Third, how much do I engage God’s Spirit of New Life even in my desolate moments, so that animated by God’s love and life, I awaken to mission again, and bring God’s good news with courage and zeal even to a world which is sometimes crippled by fear and so chooses to put their trust in worldly things which pretend to fill their fearful hearts with false securities built on riches, power and pride? The Spirit draws us to absolute trust in God’s Providence so we can pin our hopes in God alone who can give the peace and joy we seek.
Do “Come Holy Spirit, and fills us with the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” God Bless!
May 16, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Acts 13,14.42-52; Revelation 7, 9.14b-17; John 7,1-2.10.25-30
Id quod volo (That which I desire most): That I may grow in my interior knowledge of Jesus who became human for me, for all of us, that I may truly see him more clearly, the better to love him more ardently and follow him more closely.
The one detail that caught my attention while reading the Gospel for this morning was the inhabitants of Jerusalem were asking themselves–“Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ?” But we know where he is from.” It seems these people were themselves entertaining the possibility that Jesus was really the Messiah, but were also hesitant to pursue their questioning because their religious leaders were bent at arresting and eliminating Jesus for some reason. But that latter question “but we know where he is from” is to me an important question. Do they really know where Jesus was from. Humanly speaking, they could really have known–Jesus was from Nazareth in Galilee. But was he indeed really from there?
John’s Gospel is one which will refute such claims of knowledge of Jesus–for John includes in his Gospel a whole prologue which relocates the origins of Jesus from that described in the earlier synoptic Gospels. Mark begins his Gospel already at the wake of Jesus’ public ministry. Both Matthew and Luke inserts an infancy section, where Luke recounts from a Marian optic, Jesus as the son of Mary, while Matthew inserts an even more elaborate genealogy which inserts Jesus as Son of David in the lineage of Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father. John identifies Jesus explicitly with the Word, who was with God when God created the world and was in fact the Word through which all creation came to be. This Word was the word that became flesh through the action of the Holy Spirit and became the child of Mary and Joseph.
But that whole prehistory of Jesus is something that needs an intentional assent, a conscious choice to believe. And only people who have been drawn by the Father to Jesus would know. “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” This intimate and interior knowledge of Jesus is a mark of a genuine disciple of our Lord. St. Ignatius distinguishes this grace to be the mark of discipleship in the Exercises: “to see Jesus clearly, to love him more ardently and to follow him more closely.” It is this knowledge which will give disciples the wisdom and prudence to discern God’s desires for the world and the courage and generosity to give oneself in an elected vocation and mission for the fulfillment of such desires of God. In fact one can argue that my capacity to discern God’s will is nothing more than an intuitive familiarity with what God loves, much as a happily married couple begin to develop in time an intuitive familiarity with the preferences and desires of the loved one, and so discerning what his or her next action would be just comes so naturally.
It is ironic that these conversations of the people of Jerusalem happen in the context of the sukkot or the Jewish feast of tabernacles or booths. For the duration of this feast the Jews are asked to eat their meals inside a pre-decorated tent. This practice is meant to help them remember and celebrate their coming back to God after they repented from the worship of the golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai, just after they forged a Covenant with Yawheh. Sukkot it seems means renewed fellowship with God. For Christians we see in sukkot kindred theological meanings hidden in the nativity, that is the birthing of the Messiah in the house of bread, i.e., Bethlehem; palm Sunday (Jews wave palm fronds too on the feast of tabernacles), and the harvest blessing festival celebrated in autumn. But what precisely happens in John’s Gospel is quite the opposite. The people, especially the authorities plotting to kill Jesus, fixes Jesus’ meaning in their minds–a threat to a social, cultural and religious order that has kept their peace and prosperity, and so they claim to know Jesus through and through and resist any show of belief in Jesus’ true origin as the Word of God. But know Jesus, they did not. Only Jesus’ true sheep would know him.” God Bless!
April 18, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: Acts 9, 1-20
Id quod volo (That which I desire most deeply): That I encounter the Risen Lord, as Paul did, and in this encounter receive from our Lord an insight into the ways he offers conversion to me in my life’s journey.
The late Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan, S.J. taught us much about the human experience of conversion. He says it is grounded on a person’s commitment to look at his or her experience and really seek out the truth in the realities that one experiences as well as in the self that goes through such an experience of truth-seeking and truth-telling. This level of conversion has to do with intellectual conversion. Of course one must remain attentive that his or her affective faculties help one to really engage reality and embrace it. This is because a person’s psychoemotional states and capacities can serve to delude us, fill us with prejudice or biases which may distort our perception and interpretation of realities. hence affective conversion, even psychic conversion is needed so we may truly engage reality with genuine attention and more or less accurate perception. And Intellectual conversion also includes our capacity to understand reality and draw meaning from those parts of reality that we experience. On this level the person is challenged to be intelligent in his or her inquiry into things , at times questioning, at times probing, all the time, seriously reflecting on the reality one engages from many different angles and perspectives, trying one’s best to get a glimpse of the truth of whatever reality one is engaging. Intellectual conversion nurtured by constant attentiveness and intelligent inquiry bears helps one face the challenge of a deeper conversion–moral conversion. where we are challenged to exercise our freedom and make reasonable judgments from all the data we have drawn from our attentive and intelligent engagement with things. Reasonable judgment of things help us make good decisions and undertake responsible actions which not only enrich the world and people around us, but also make us grow as free and loving persons. Intellectual conversion helps us to really look at things with attention and a critical mind, so that when we are faced with choices on how to respond to the things that we see, our choices are realistic and genuinely responsive to the needs that we apprehend. But then Lonergan explains while our commitment to these first four precepts of “being attentive,” “being intelligent,” “being reasonable,” and “being responsible” are important foundations to transcendence, what really move us to transcend our narrow parrochial concerns is the love that draws us out of ourselves and towards God and others.When we find ourselves caught up in the dynamic of love, such love animates us and transforms what we are able to see and perceive, helps us to penetrate and understand interiorly the very heart of things and helps us to stand by our commitments with fidelity and generosity.
In many ways, what Lonergan describes as conversion can be traced and verified in the experience of the great apostle to the gentiles, St. Paul. Saul of Tarsus was a zealous Jew, a pharisee whose passionate love for the law made him see those who adhere to the Jesus way as misled, even perhaps a threat to Jewish cult and practice. Thus he volunteered to pursue those who follow the Way, so that he may be of help in bringing these threats to court and so eliminate these believers in what he saw as the false way. To him his efforts were a sincere living out of his Jewish faith and nothing could be far more pleasing to God than to stamp out this Jesus movement before it gets too big.
And so the Risen Lord decides to pay Saul a visit–a quite dramatic encounter on the Road to Damascus. From his own testimony, Paul said that suddenly a bright light shone before him which toppled him from his horse, and then he heard a voice audible only to himself and not to others: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul asked “who are you, sir?” and the reply came: “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”
This initial religious encounter would set Saul off into a lifetime journey of many conversions. In this event alone, the Spirit of Light already begins to labour to transform Saul’s way of seeing. The Light blinds Saul temporarily, loosening the grip of his own former biases so that on the third day, when his sight is restored, what he sees will be a little closer to what the Lord of the Light wants him to see.
The same Lord revealed to Ananias what Saul was to become–“this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel. and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.” From this short line the author of the Acts of the Apostles makes us privy to the life Saul was to look forward to. His mission would be far broader than that of the Jewish Pharisee. Saul was to go out to the whole world to proclaim the man whose followers he used to pursue and persecute.
From his initial intellectual conversion, Saul, now renamed Paul, would slowly find his way to the bosom of the Church he once made to suffer. He had to take steps so those believers in the Way, by then renamed as Christians, can recover their trust in him and embrace him as one of the apostles, only that his mission was focused on people who stood outside of the Jewish faith. Did he really suffer? Certainly, Paul had to endure the doubts and fickleness of some of the original believers. For it is not often that we see former persecutors becoming passionate promoters in a short span of time. And then Paul had to face a community which thought God willed for Christians to be Jews first, and then become Christians. Through the efforts of Paul and Barnabbas, eventually the Council of Jerusalem recognized that it could happen that a gentile be converted and ask to be baptized as a Christian and that such a person need not convert to the Jewish faith before he gets baptized as a Christian.
Paul’s theological and pastoral writings speak much of his characteristic love for the (Jewish) law, but such a devotion did not lead him to support the Judaizers in imposing the Jewish faith on would-be Gentile Christians. We are saved by grace that comes from the Spirit of God in whom we have been baptized and not by mere fidelity to the Law. Paul also had to use his gifts in discernment, leadership and administration so that Christians who see in themselves many varied gifts may not be misled to selfish autonomous works but may learn to see their gifts in complement to and collaboration with others who carry other gifts. Hence the Church Saul once persecuted and wished to destroy, Paul now loved dearly and helped to build up. It was at the core of his original converting vision that this Church made up the Body of Christ and he had to exercise ministry so that the many different parts of this one body may really work together to build up the whole.
For sure Paul went through many other crises characteristic of those active in the apostolate. Cardinal Martini suggests that Paul had to endure crises in friendships, for instance with the other apostolic leader–Peter who as an avid Jew would have shown vacillation in whether to support the Judaizers or confirm the new non-Jewish converts without forcing them to become Jews. And Paul would have rebuked Peter when he did vacillate. Furthermore, Cardinal Martini talks about some falling out with Barnabbas, the apostle who helped to initially integrate Paul to the apostolic body. The conflict may have been caused by Paul’s gentle approach to the young disciple John Mark whose immature ways may have affected their ministry. Barnabbas may have preferred Paul to be clearer and firmer with his young ward. And then the many travails of missionary work–shipwrecks, hunger, poverty, resistance, false accusations, arrest and imprisonment. Finally, Paul speaks of some “thorn in the flesh,” a difficulty that may be a root weakness in his personality, something which blocks his fuller commitment to Christ, yet ironically, says Paul, makes him always humble before Christ, seeing himself as a vulnerable earthen vessel that holds an infinitely greater treasure such as the Christ.
Paul’s journey as a believer would have gone through many conversions of the mind, the heart and the will so that in the end, he can proudly proclaim, “I have run the race, fought a good fight and am now ready to claim my prize,” so that on that latter point in his life, he knew he was prepared to die, yet he was really also content to continue living and serving the Lord. What death did Paul suffer?–he was said to have been privileged to die the more compassionate way because he was a Roman Citizen. He died by decapitation. He was beheaded–pain was minimal because death was swift, unlike Peter’s execution by crucifixion, and inverted at that, slow painful, excruciating death. But through it all, it was Paul’s encounter with so great a love as the Risen Lord’s that fired him. It was this love that gave his vision to things the breadth of horizon that only the mystery of God’s plan held. It was love that made Paul capable of loving even amidst suffering and pain. It was love that gave him a distinct spirit of generosity and zeal that stretched him beyond his previous limits so that he may proclaim the Word of God, really to the ends of the earth.
We ask that the Lord accompany us through our life-long conversion. We pray that God take away whatever scales that block our spiritual vision to the lofty dreams of God for our lives, so that locked into God’s dreams we may offer receive God’s love and offer our lives completely to the spreading of that love to others. God Bless!
April 15, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: John 21, 15-19.
Id quod volo (That which we desire most): To encounter the Risen Lord who receives us unconditionally with the kind of love we are prepared to give and challenges us to stretch that love a bit more.
By the Lake of Tiberias, the Risen Lord gathers his disciples again and serves them breakfast. It must have been awkward at first. After all, all but one of them deserted Jesus at the time of his passion. Peter even denied him just hours after the latter had passionately sworn that he would give his life for him. In my own contemplations on this story, I found a Jesus who turned this awkward situation into a fun breakfast scene, when the Risen Lord would set all of them laughing during a hearty meal of charcoal-grilled fish. As Ignatius said, this Risen Lord is one who brings consolation to people who encounter him. He does want to give complete joy to his friends.
After the breakfast, the one who would have felt most awkward, Peter, was called aside by Jesus. Many biblical commentators say that the conversation that follows after is like a ceremonial healing for Peter: three times he denied our Lord, and now, three times, our Lord asks him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me, more than these?” Each time, Peter renews his yes to our Lord.
But little Greek helps us unlock deeper meanings to this. Apparently what we read as simply “love” in Jesus’ threefold question and Peter’s threefold response involves not one but two Greek forms of the word “love.” As you know the Greek language has three forms of the word “love.” Eros, the first form refers to sexual love. Philein refers to the love of friends. Agape refers to self-sacrificing love that is the kind of love God loves us with.
What is a bit intriguing is that in the ensuing conversation between Peter and our Lord, our Lord kept asking Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) me, and in both places, Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love (philein) you.” Was Peter humbly telling the Lord, “you know Lord that I do want to love you with the depth of agape, but for now what I am prepared to give is my love for a friend (philein).” And so the third time the Lord asked, he actually changed his question into “Simon, son of John, do you love me as a friend (philein)?” And Peter responds again with “Yes Lord, you know that I love you as a friend (philein). The Gospel also says Peter was a bit aggrieved that the Lord asked him a third time.
This time around, did Jesus lower his expectations to the level of loving that Peter was prepared to give, showing us all that God really does receive from us the kind of loving response we are prepared to give. Knowing these subtle meanings from the Greek, we realize too that the final words of Jesus to Peter were not words of foreboding or words of warning, but on the contrary, these are words of assurance. It’s as if Jesus was telling Peter, it’s okay, Peter, I understand this is the loving you’re prepared to give me for now, but know that in the future you will love me and glorify me in the way that I love you. You will also be crucified like me.
We ask and pray, that Jesus continue to receive us in the kind of loving we are prepared to give him at this time of our lives, We also express our trust that through him and with his Spirit in our hearts, our own loving, despite its flimsiness, vulnerability, fickle-mindedness and shallowness will also come to fruition and become the kind of divine, self-sacrificing love that is truly the way Christ loves. God Bless!
April 10, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: John 20, 21-29.
Id quod volo: That we may have the courage to open our wounds to Jesus’ healing touch so we like Thomas the Doubter may be healed and disposed to exclaim to Jesus: “My Lord and My God!”
There is something about the sense of touch which connotes a more committed stance, than say, the sense of sight. Because while we can steal glances and even stares (as wily peeping toms would try to do), when we touch, what we touch, always touches us back. There is immediacy in our contact with another person, and immediately we know, instinctively by a person’s touch if that person means us harm or good, if that person wants to communicate caring or violence or neediness or even a plot to abuse.
Our language for deep emotion even carries the language of touch. Especially among Filipinos we express being deeply moved as “I was touched!” We’d use such a phrase in describing for instance having been affected by a dramatic tearjerker telenovela scene, or a moving testimony by a friend or even a stranger, o a deeply religious experience.
The apostle Thomas, ever the doubter, had received word from his companions that the Lord Jesus had indeed risen and had appeared to all of them. Unfortunately he was out of the house the first time the Risen Lord visited. Despite the testimony of all his friends however, Thomas persisted in his doubt and even declared he would not believe until he himself touched the Lord, probed his hands and side to feel the Lord’s wounds. He just needed this touch to prove to himself that it was really Jesus before him, the Jesus who was crucified and died and was buried.
I was thinking, Thomas was holding not only a difficult enough stance of the empiricist’s “I have to see for myself to believe.” No, his proof was founded on touch. “I have to touch the Lord’s wounds to believe.” I was trying hard to fathom this stance and the only way I could find meaning in it is to think of the woundedness the fueled Thomas’ doubt. Thomas was deeply hurt by the violent death of a hero and friend. He was also grieving for lost dreams and lost friendship. And worse he was probably self-loathing for failing to be by his Lord’s side when Jesus most needed him, all for fear of backlash from the Jews.
How else can such a deep woundedness and doubt be healed except by the experience of profound forgiveness and unconditional love. The moment Jesus appears again, he calls on Thomas and gives in to Thomas’ challenge. “Come Thomas, put your finger into the holes on my hands and my side. Do not persist in your unbelief but believe.” Thomas did touch Jesus’ wounds and the only words he could exclaim were “My Lord and My God!,” a confession of faith which was probably the most advanced so far at that time–acknowledging Jesus’ Lordship and Jesus’ divinity. Yet Jesus in response still confronts Thomas, and then blesses the rest of us next. Jesus affirms Thomas faith, though rebukes him gently that he believes only because he has seen and touched. And so Jesus blesses the rest of us: “Blessed are there who have not seen yet believe.” I’d like to think all of us in this generation are included in that blessing, even though I also believe that the riches of Ignatian prayer have given us the privilege of “seeing” and “touching” Jesus in very real and moving ways, with the eyes of faith in prayer helping us to fathom mystery.
But notice this great truth: Even though at the surface it was Thomas, touching Jesus’ wounds, the opposite was quite true as well, Jesus’ unconditional love and mercy touched Thomas wounds and doubt and those gestures were enough to hush away other doubts and make Thomas believe. I think many of us know that truth from experience, in moments of doubt it is the loving touch of friends and family the hushes our questions, perhaps not so much because our questions had been answered, but because the love we feel is enough to help us bear the questions even if they remained unanswered. God Bless!
April 2, 2016 Leave a comment
To Pray on and Ponder: John 21, 1-19
Id quod volo (That which we desire most deeply): A renewed encounter with the Risen Lord who receives us in mercy and compassion and heals us from the misery of sin to renewed sense of the Lord’s entrusting to us of our share in His mission.
I am not sure if we are supposed to assume that this apparition of Jesus to his disciples by the lakeshore of Tiberias happened after several other previous apparitions had already taken place, but this particular apparition somehow represents a “complete” religious experience in itself. When Peter announces “I am going to fish” it sounds to me as though Peter was taking on again the things that he had left behind when he first chose to follow Jesus. And to me this was a sign of misery–a backslide of sorts. The leader of Jesus’ followers was stepping back from mission and returning to the life he had before he followed Jesus. And now, all the other disciples wanted to go with Peter. They all went out and got into the boat. But like that scene in the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called the first disciples, they caught nothing. Life and ministry without Jesus are always wanting in fruit, and yield nothing.
And then of course, Jesus appears and all things change.”Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will find something.” Was it the case that all night long, the fish hid on the right side of the boat and rendered the left side empty? Weren’t they working in the same lake? Or was Jesus talking about that working on the wrong side of things because the Lord was not with them in their work? And so when they cast the net again on the right side of the boat, they did catch fish–an abundance of fish! Immediately John knew and said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” And hearing John’s words, Peter dressed up and then threw himself into the water, wanting to immediately swim to shore and see Jesus. For some reason though, Peter reached the shore last, while the two boats filled with the big catch reached the shore aheard. Before disciples could come around Jesus, the Lord already shouted to invite them by the fire. “Bring some of the fish that you caught,” Jesus asked.
In my own contemplation, a very humorous, irreverent Risen Lord was presiding over breakfast–keeping the tone of the conversation light and humorous, as if to lighten up the tension among the disciples who seem to continue doubting and to draw his followers into fuller reconciliation and restoration of communion. I mean I heard Jesus calling out to John and Andrew–telling them lovingly to sit on his right and on his left, “o, at least while I’m still here on earth, enjoy the moment, for in this breakfast, you will be the chief waiters. (And the disciples laugh hard!) “O Matthew, can’t you clean the fish any faster? I bet you’re still looking for coins in the mouths of fish that’s why it’s taking you so long! (And the disciples laugh again!) O Nathaniel, what are you doing by the fig tree–are you doing what I think you’re doing? There’s a comfort room somewhere near that house, you can pee there. (Haha, the disciples laugh yet again!) O Simon, please call Cleopas, Mary and Mom. Mom just went to the house because she wanted to prepare fried rice for you to go with the grilled fish. Peter finally reaching the shore, went closer to the group sheepishly. Jesus handed him a towel saying, “Finally, you’re here Peter, come closer, come by the fire. Here’s a towel you can use to dry up a bit. I wouldn’t want you sneezing before the cock crows–the disciples laugh again, with Peter showing on his pale-pink face a grin masking a frown.
When the meal was in progress, Jesus said, “a few days more I go to my Father in heaven, but you can be sure, I will go ahead because I want to prepare a place for each one of you. When I leave, I will entrust you to the Spirit, he will take care of you, and will empower you to forgive those who repent of their sins.”
And then Jesus called Peter whom he really wanted to confirm as his leadership is crucial for the group. Peter himself receives mercy, with Jesus asking him three times to confirm his love and to renew his commitment to support his brothers and as it were, feed the sheep. Three confirmations to heal the pangs of his three previous denials.
But the one really touching part in this reconciliation conversation between Jesus and Peter was this: “Amen, amen I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you want to
go . . . follow me.” The evangelist John commented that these words of Jesus indicated the way Peter was to die. By tradition we know that Peter was crucified as Jesus was, but at Peter’s request, the leader of the apostles asked to be crucified upside down for he felt himself unworthy to die his master’s death.
To me, Jesus’ words can also indicate the kind of obedience that all followers of the Lord experience growing in their hearts as they mature in ministry. It’s this sense of being drawn to follow more faithfully and with less and less self-leading, just a free and focused following of Jesus’ lead.
And so we pause and reflect: When were those moments when we entertained some doubts in the Lord’s presence in our lives, especially in moments of crises or darkness? Return to those moments when we were tempted to take on once more sinful practices and destructive ways of coping that we lived by before our self-commitment to the Lord? How did these episodes of “backsliding” feel? From what we notice in our experience, how does God call our attention and make us remember our covenant with him and renew our love and commitment to him and his redemptive project?
As we continue to reflect on the Easter mysteries, may we also heal through God’s gift of mercy and receive a renewed entrustment to us of mission. God Bless!
April 1, 2016 Leave a comment