Monday, September 29, 2008

Call of Duty

Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C
October 3, 2010

Today's Gospel gives us a deeper understanding of GOD and our service to Him. Commonly, when we do something for somebody, we expect a reward or a sort of "payment". That somebody owes us. We call it, "utang na loob". It is a very powerful position against somebody. Unless what was done was part of our responsibility and duty to the other. In that case, we just did our job and the other do not owe us anything at all. We were expected to do what we have done. The same as in the Gospel. After asking the servant who just came in from work in the field to serve him, the master did not owe the servant anything because the servant just did his job. At most, that servant should just tell himself that he was an unprofitable servant because he only did what was expected of him.

Public servants should be seen by us in the same breath. Public servants should see themselves in the same breath. When they were elected in their position, they were expected to fulfill the responsibilities and duties of the position. Unfortunately, this seems to be not true. Many public servants, when they dispense their duties wanted people to feel they owe him what he had done. Many people are led to see their projects us something they owe their public servants. For example, road constructions are part of their duty. Funds, coming from the taxes of people, are entrusted to them for the benefit of the people. His position gives him the power to do it. When he does it, he just did what he was tasked to do by virtue of his position. Thus, like the servant in the Gospel, he should say to himself that he was an unprofitable servant because he did not do anything beyond his duty. He should advertise his projects as "Your taxes are working for you." rather than, "This is a project of Mayor X.". If, for example, the public official had provided individual houses and everyday food sustenance for his constituents, then, they owe him. He gave them more than he was expected to give. He was a profitable servant worthy of the gratitude of the people.

This could not happen in the case of God. That is why we are always indebted to God. There is nothing we can do that God will owe us. Whatever we do, no matter how great they are and intended even for God, we can not do more than what is expected of us. That is because everything comes from God. There is nothing we can say as our own even if we have toiled and spent for them. The very life that we have which is the source of everything we have came from God. Therefore, once we have done everything, all we can say to God is that we have been unprofitable. We just did what we were expected to do.

This is very relevant to people who think that God owes them because they prayed, sacrificed, fasted, did acts of charity, forgave, understood, exercised patience, and even offered their lives for Him. In the end, it was not God who was graced. It was the person himself. God is perfect. he is complete. He does not need anything from us and us. It is we who needs Him. It is we who needs something from Him. Therefore, even if we have exhausted every ounce of our life in service and love of Him, we still owe Him.

This is what humility is about. It consists in knowing our true place before God. That true place being we as creatures and He as Creator. He calls and we respond. Everything we are had been formed by Him for a purpose. When we fulfill that call, we fulfill His Will and ourselves. Therefore, it is our life to hear the call, live the call, and realize the call. In the end, we may not be profitable, but we have done what God had expected us to do. if we had satisfied God's expectation, who needs profit? 

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Angel Of God, My Guardian Dear...

Homily for The Feast Of The Guardian Angels
October 2, 2010

Today is the feast of the Guardian Angels. From early times liturgical honor had been given to all angels to recognize their presence and their roles in God's plan of salvation. According to our faith, angels are pure spirits, persons but bodiless, created by God with more acute intelligence and greater power than have human beings. Their office is to praise God, to be His messengers, and to watch over man. We believe that God had assigned a particular angel, a guardian, to watch over us and communicate God's message to us. Tradition had developed a belief that Guardian Angels are particularly present to children. Stories had already been told about how children had been aided and miraculously saved by their Guardian Angels.

I remember when I was still a seminarian and was having my summer apostolate in Gapan, Nueva Ecija. One late night, the parish priest asked me to accompany him to a remote place in the parish. We rode his car and proceeded to go to the place. While we were navigating the highway, we saw some broken pieces of glass of a car. A car accident just happened. But there were no cars on the road. We decided to stop and looked around for the car. Suddenly, we heard some cry from children and moans from suffering people. The jeep they were riding turned turtle from the main road to the rice field on side of the road. We went to them and saw that the adult passengers were either unconscious or crying in pain. The children, about three of them, were lying on the ground near the jeep crying but miraculously unhurt. We called for help and everyone was brought to a nearby local hospital. We were glad that nobody was in danger of death. What was startling was the good conditions of the children. By the way the jeep was lying on the field, it was hard to think that anyone, much more a child, would go unhurt from such an accident. Me and the parish priest could not believe it. In the end, both of us attributed it to the guardian angels of the children.

But we know that it was not always the case. In our present times, we know of children who had been victims of violence and immoral acts of adults. Children are caught in cross fires between two warring groups. Children are being killed (aborted) by their very parents. Children are being  forced to work. Children are being maltreated and abused. Where are their guardian angels? This is definitely hard to reconcile. But this must lead us to an accurate understanding of guardian angels.

As defined above and by the very meaning of the word "angel", they are spirits serving as messengers of God. They are God's presences to us. By presence, it means, that God communicates Himself to us and makes His presence felt by us. Because of angels, we are never alone. Angels assure is one of us God's company. That company maybe done in different ways; actually saving children from accidents, guiding adults in determining what is right and wrong, assisting in discerning where the Spirit blows, allaying fear in the face of danger, giving courage against a spiritual challenge, etc. An angel is not God. But an angel makes possible God's active presence. At every moment in our lives, we must remember that we have angels ready to guide. This is not hard to believe because we know our God to be caring and loving. In His love for us, we expect His active presence. Therefore, providing and sending a personal messenger, like an angel, are truths that are not difficult to accept for the God that we have.

Our angels had been working for us since we were born. They will continue to work for us until we die. Have we given them the recognition and appreciation they deserve? Have we sought their guidance and listened to their messages? Let us remember that they have a counterpart from Satan. There are also evil angels who make Satan's presence active in us. They always counter the messages and guidance of our guardian angels. When we commit sins, the evil angels prevailed over our guardian angels. On this day, we do not celebrate their feast only to remember their presence but to renew our belief and commitment to them. Listening to them is not for their goodness but for us. Today's feast is therefore for our benefit. Only when we forge a union with them can we topple the evil angels and let God's message reach us and form us.

Our Catholic prayer is very appropriate on this occasion;

Angel of God
my guardian dear,
to whom God's love commits me here,
ever this day,
be at my side
to light and guard,
to rule and guide.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Simplicity is Perfection

Feast of St. Therese
October 1, 2010

We celebrate today the feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus whose cult was considered one of the most impressive and significant religious phenomena of contemporary times. She was known for her "little way", i.e. disposing her duties with perfection no matter how small they were. In our present times, she will be a very perfect advocate for "Pondo Ng Pinoy" which promotes that no matter how small an action maybe, as long as it is good and made a habit, it will lead to salvation. It will lead to perfection.

That was not the case with the Galilean towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida. Jesus lamented their blindness and rejection of the words He had spoken before them and the miracles He had worked before their eyes. Those words and deeds were more than enough for them to recognize His power, authority, and person. Those words and deeds were much much greater than any prophet and elders had done combined, both in quality and substance. And yet, their appreciation of Jesus were limited to marvelling on the newness and radicality of His Word. Their eyes just feasted only the spectacularity of His miracles and nothing more. They failed to understand and accept the full import of His ministry.

This maybe attributed to the sophistication and high level of intelligence in those communities. Too much criticism and and bias made it hard for them to accept Jesus. They did not expect God becoming one like them.  Much more, they did not expect Him to come from Nazareth, which is an unpopular town, and for the supposed Messiah to come from a family of a carpenter. It was also the reason why Jesus said that it will be easier for the children to enter the Kingdom than for the learned. The children are more open, humble, and trusting. 
Their expectation for the spectacular made them miss the simple and true. This attitude is prevalent in most of us. But St. Therese gave us a very good example in the beauty and effectiveness of simplicity. Well, big things came from small things. The spectacular was really a result of little things done in coordination. Our focus on the grand result makes us forget about the web of little goods and rights that were done to produce the great result.

The Good News is that salvation is attained by doing simple good things. The Good news is that perfection is attained by having small holy successes. The Good News is that eternal life is reached through a series of obedience to God. This is a good reminder to all of us who are so obsessed or so concerned about achieving only big things. The point is, it will come. But we can not be blind, deaf, and insensitive to everything that is happening before us and in us. Learn from yesterday. Prepare for tomorrow. But never neglect today. The present is the most important time for us. Addressing our concerns for today will pave the way for achieving the greatness in store for tomorrow. In climbing a stair, you start on the first step. If you look ahead up, it is impossible to reach the top with one or two leaps. But if you navigate the steps one at a time, reaching the top is as easy as setting foot on the first step. It is the same with the challenges in life. Our small problems and sufferings are actually preparing us for the bigger ones (which we hope will not come). We notice that there were problems and challenges that we imagined we would never be able to hurdle. But when they come, we are surprised by the strength and confident we have to go through them.

It is the same with perfection. The very word itself is discouraging because we know we are limited and are not capable of achieving it. But it was the Lord Himself who said that we must be perfect as the Father is perfect. It means that it is a goal we must achieve. It means that we are capable of achieving it. With His help of course! St. Therese discovered the way, the "little way"! By doing little good deeds, we are perfecting ourselves. Her attitude was to give her all in anything she was asked to do no matter how little they were in the eyes of many. Whether it is mopping the floor, washing the dishes, cooking, sewing, cleaning etc. The Lord Jesus said, "Whatever you do to the least of your brothers, you do unto Me!". For the world, small things maybe small, but for God, everything is BIG!

Forget about perfection, if you will. But always do good things no matter how small as best as you can. Before you know it, perfection is attained!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Neighbor, Love Thy Neighbor

The parable of the Good Samaritan was Jesus' response to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" (As if they were not aware of the Genesis story of Cain and Abel where Cain, after asked by God where his brother was, answered God; "Am I my brother's keeper?"). As usual, Jesus responded convincingly and to the heart! He told them about the Good Samaritan.

It will be good to put the parable into context. The Jews believed that they were the chosen people. By virtue of that privilege, they expected to receive the Good News of salvation first. In fact, that was the plan of God. Jesus, the Good News, would be born a Jew and there He will fulfill His ministry. Samaria was not a Jewish town. It was a Gentile place. They were not expected to receive the Good News before the Jews. Going back to the parable, you can just imagine the reaction of his Jewish listeners in making a Gentile, a Samaritan, as the do-gooder and the Jews as the villains!

So who is the neighbor? It is easy to say that the neighbor is the victim in the parable or any victim for that matter. He is the one in need. The person who is lying on the ground needing assistance. The person who is hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, oppressed, confused, etc. And you will be right. Anyone who is in need is our neighbor. It is imperative for a Christian to extend anything he can do to alleviate the poverty and predicament of his neighbor. But if you notice, in the parable, Jesus pointed us to the other equally important neighbor, the Good Samaritan. He was the one who helped the victim. He saw to it that the victim was fully assisted. He even left something for him for his further sustenance after bringing him to a home care and entrusting him to a care giver. For Jesus, the neighbor is not only the one in need, but one who can help those in need! For Jesus, we must be neighbors to each other. We must take care of each other. We have the responsibility to see to it that we share and use the charisms, the gifts, that God had given us. From the words of St. Paul, it is ministering to each other. When we use Gods gifts for the good of the community we have become a minister. In this sense, to be a neighbor is to be a minister!

The parable thus reminds us that we must always be on the look out, not blind, mute, deaf or numb, to the needs of others. The time to help is now, here, and to everyone in need.

Neighbor, Love Thy Neighbor!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mama Mary?

The figure above was taken at the "big lagoon" in El Nido, Palawan. It was part of our island hopping activity. Upon entering the lagoon, our guide pointed to this figure. All of us, aboard the boat, said that the image formed out of this limestone mountain, seems to be Mama Mary. Easily, we attribute similar figures to Mary, the Blessed Virgin. That is faith and there is nothing wrong with it. If, in seeing this figure, one becomes aware of the Mother of God and thus becomes aware of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, so be it.

The figure can actually be anybody or nobody. In fact, nature was not aware that it was forming a figure of  somebody, much more the Mother of God. Faith will tell us that God may reveal Himself through His creation. And this is definitely part of His creation. 
Pundits would question its immediate association, much more, its definite recognition as a saint or the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many questions can not but arise. Why the shape? Do the wind, air, limestone, trees, and everything around it, "consciously" cooperated to form it? Who is directing these forces of nature to shape the figure? Were they aware it was developing that shape? If not, then, was it accidentally formed? What an accident! 
But these things do happen. Even by just looking at clouds, for example, anyone can make a lot of interpretations from them. Cloud formations are so vast, complicated and full of lines and curves that anybody can really make something meaningful out of it. Much of it depend on the situation and experience of the viewer. Catholics, because of their deep devotion to Mary, would easily and have no difficulty seeing it as the Lady. Such is one of the principles behind an abstract work. It provides the client the freedom to interpret the work according to his experience and knowledge.
It is the same as how the famous Shroud of Turin is recognized. Pictures of it have under it a caption saying "Jesus". This is very dangerous because even though there are some signs and evidences that would make us think it was Jesus, there were also tests that say it was not Jesus. The Church had not yet made any declaration that it was really Jesus' shroud. However, even without the declaration, the faithfuls who are touched and helped by its presence to be more aware of what the Lord Jesus experienced during His Passion and Death may use it as an object of faith. But to claim it as "Jesus" would be walking on thin ice as far as idolatry is concerned. What is more appropriate would be to caption is as "Jesus?".
What is important is what the figure does to us. God uses all His creation to let us know Him more, love Him more, and serve Him more. But caution must be observed that the figure itself will be the object of worship. At most, it should only help us, via our sense of seeing, to recognize and communicate to Mother Mary and to God. Otherwise, it would be bordering on idolatry, i.e. worshipping the figure itself as Mary herself! 

Birth of Mary, Birth of Salvation.

No, Mary is not the Savior. Jesus is. But as the plan of God will show, Mary was part of the plan. Because Jesus will become one like us, He needed to be born of a woman. God chose Mary and she became the Mother of Jesus, who is God.

Maybe we ask, why God did it that way? We can reflect, speculate, or theologize about but the whole import of that act can only be known by God. As for us, we must be thankful for that generosity of God. Therefore, the feast of the birth of the Virgin Mary is an occasion to celebrate. We celebrate God's love and generosity for saving us. We celebrate God's trust when He elected to invite Mary, human like us, to actively participate in the work of salvation. We thank God for the continued inspiration being brought to us by the witnessing and guidance of the Blessed Mother.

Nowadays, when it seems that only Catholic Christians (unfortunately there are some of us who also attack her and take her for granted) are giving Mary her due recognition, we need to assert more our devotion to her. By knowing her and living the example she lived, we have given justice to her virginity, motherhood, and blessedness. By imitating her perfect discipleship, we have responded to the generosity of God who had taken her and given her back to us to be with us on our journey towards His Kingdom.

Thanks be to God for giving us a Mother.

Happy birthday Blessed Mother!

Because I love you

Nobody is perfect. Though the Lord tells us to be perfect just like the Father, because we are creatures, we have some limitations. In that case, perfection is becoming who we are as created by God. Everyone has his/her blind spot. We can not know everything. For this reason, we need the guidance of others. When necessary, we need to be corrected.

Telling somebody his faults or mistakes is one of the most difficult thing to do. Yet, it is one of the most important thing that we must do, especially as Christians. In the Gospels, Jesus painstakingly enumerated and detailed how fraternal correction maybe done. This sends the message that correction is part of every Christians responsibility. When we were baptized, we were incorporated to the family of God and had acquired the threefold functions of Jesus; prophet, pastor, and priest. Fraternal correction is based on the prophetic ministry given to us by virtue of baptism. We have the responsibility to proclaim the Word of God to everyone we meet. 

The book of the prophet Ezekiel reminds us that fraternal correction is not an option. There are consequences for doing and not doing it. When a wicked person is reminded of his guilt and he does not change, the wicked will die for his guilt but the neighbor who reminded him will be saved. But if the neighbor fails to correct the wicked and did not change, the wicked will die for his sins and the neighbor who did not correct him will be responsible for his death. We are our brother's keeper. 

We can see here that the purpose of the Lord is for the benefit of all; the wicked and the neighbor. What good will it be if we lie to make someone smile? Better to tell the truth and make somebody cry.

A helpful guideline would be to evaluate the correction to be made. First, it must be true. There must be certainty that what will  be said is true. Truth is worth telling even if it will hurt. Second, is it necessary? It maybe true but not really necessary or relevant. In other words, it may not be told and nothing substantial will be affected. If it is relevant, is being done out of love? St. Paul said that with love, one can never go wrong. Loving is always a fulfillment of the commandment. But loving here is not the romantic or the secular carnal kind. This is Christian loving, i.e. wishing the spiritual goodness of the other. Spiritual goodness means salvation. Therefore, fraternal correction must be done out of love for the sake of salvation.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Power Of Intercession

Catholics believe in intercessions of angels, Mother Mary, and the Saints. The intercession is more of guidance than direct help. We believe that it is God who gives all graces. The intercessors, as experts on relationship with God, are the best models for obtaining these graces. Their experience of God could lead us to live our lives into full fruition.

During the construction of our new church, I had experienced so many intercessions from our patron saint, Alphonsus Mary De Liguori. There was this incident of acquiring a certain material needed for the church. As established practice, because of the big bulk we need, we invited suppliers to quote. The Construction Committee evaluated the quotes. A decision was arrived at and an appointment to meet the supplier was made for further negotiations. After the talk, I would usually bring the matter in prayer. I will ask God through the intercession of St. Al to help me discern. Quality and availability, more than money, were considered more. In this particular order, I did not get a clear message from God. The supplier pressed us to confirm the quote because the prices may change. Worrying about losing the proposal, I decided to sign the conforme. Just then, I received a call from a friend. It so happen that he was also into the construction business. I took the opportunity to asked advice from him  about the deal I was about to sign. He intimated his reservations to the deal. He asked if I can give him some time to know more about it and give me a feedback as soon as possible. He did and he found out some doubts as to the quality and availability of the materials. I did not sign the deal and to make the long story short, we were saved from the "bogus" deal. And to top it all, we were able to find a better deal!

Maybe to some, situations like the above should not be brought to discernment anymore. But my formation (Ignatian Spirituality) from the Jesuits tells me that God is present in all things. All decisions must be made in accordance with God's Will. All decisions must be tested by God's Will no matter how trivial they maybe to some. We believe that we are connected with each other, those in heaven and those undergoing purification. In our Creed, we profess our belief in the Communion of Saints; in purgation, on earth, and in heaven. The guidance of those who had lived their lives in faith are very important. This we need to make use if not to discover.

This is a treasure of our faith. Intercession works!

Jesus Is The One Who Makes It Happen

St. Paul, on one occasion noticed that the Christians in Corinth had become boastful and full of pride for their achievements. They recognized their leaders as fully responsible for all of these. It resulted to factions and divisions. Paul reminded them that their leaders were mere instruments of the true leader who is Jesus. Nobody can really make things happen without the assistance of God. No matter how intelligent, powerful, and famous we are, we are still dependent on God.

This is also our belief in our departed, the Saints, angels, and Mary. They are intercessors. They are not the source of grace nor they obtain the graces for us. Our intercessors give us an example of how they themselves had obtained the graces that made them who they are. They are our models. We see their lives as examples of how we, ourselves, can benefit well from God's love. God is the Creator. God is the sustainer of life. God is the Savior!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Love Prevails!

Love is the essence of marriage. As I had said in one of my previous blogs, Catholic marriages are testimonies for the love between Jesus and His Church. Love can transcend everything; differences in attitudes, family background, status, and even religion. Yes, even religion! The very vow the couple makes, "To love and to cherish, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better for worse, till death do them part.", means that whatever happens after their marriage celebration, they will be together. Their love for each other will see them through.
Husbands and wives go through a lot of challenges and problems during their married life. They range from financial issues to extra-marital relations. But their love for each other is what would see them through those tests. Forgiveness can only be possible because of love.

That is why the decision to love can not be confused with "feeling in love". Feelings change. They are not permanent. They are reactions to experiences. The decision to love is absolute. No matter what happens, that love stands. Actually, there is nothing in marriage that can not be touched and healed by love. Because of love, the husband and the wife can go through anything successfully. That is how powerful the decision to love is. It is this kind of love that the couple expresses to each other during their marriage rite and it is that decision that they will carry out during their life of marriage.

That is why preparation before marriage is very important. It has to be clear that they are deciding to love each other. As the song says, "Kahit maputi na ang buhok ko.." (even if my hair had turned gray...). It means that love does not change with change. It persists and even grows as they live longer together. Just like wine, love is sweeter and better as they grow older.

God so love the world....

Love prevailed. Love prevails. Love will prevail.

Marriage is forever. God made it so. Jesus loved the Church unto death and even beyond death.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Who Is Behind This....?

It is the first day of September and in most shows on television and radio, we can here greetings for and references to Christmas. The Christmas Season, which is yet to happen and be celebrated four moths from now, is now being anticipated. It seems to even disregard and render the Advent Season irrelevant.

I know that many will react to this and may even accuse me of over-reacting or making a mountain out of a hill. But I simply can not just take all of these sitting down and watch the spirit of the season be eaten alive or lose by default. Things are happening as if the truth of Christmas is not known. Or, the accepted celebration is already obsolete? 

Christmas is a Jesus-event. It is the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the information of many. If we look at the birth of the Lord, it has a distinct message. In fact, when He was born, it was a silent night, a holy night. He was born in a manger. There were no fun fares. Quietly He was born not in a palace or glamorous place but in a manger, a home for animals. That was the first Christmas and it was God's way of fulfilling His promise that He will be with us. That is why Jesus was named "Emmanuel", meaning "God with us!". God became one like us to extend His peace. Peace here means reconciliation. At that time when Jesus was born, the world was in dire need of conversion. God's plan was to give His only Son to die for us after bringing the Good News of salvation. It is in this context that the Advent Season, a time of repentance and reflective anticipation of the birth and the second coming of the Lord Jesus, is first celebrated so as to fully and truly receive the grace of the birth of Jesus which is called "Christmas". Unless there is another Christmas, then I believe we stick to how it must be celebrated or change its name so as not to mistake it with those who want to celebrate Christmas in their own different way. In that way, confusion will be avoided!

Commercialism maybe behind all these. The earlier they can introduce the Christmas spirit, the longer will be the spending season. Hedonism may also be operating. People just try every opportunity to shun from sacrifices and sufferings. Every chance of enjoying is being grabbed and experienced. Ignorance is also a factor. The lack of knowledge of the true meaning of Christmas easily sways and influences many. There maybe other reasons but all the same, they affect and contribute to the dilution, and worst, secularization of a core-Jesus-event in the life of the Christian faithful.

The challenge to the Catholic Church grows harder and harder each year this practice is being done. She must find a way to cope with it. Is a compromise solution acceptable? Is it possible to allow it and just remind people about the essence of Christmas? The Church does not reject changes to things that maybe changed as long as the core message is retained. This would need a thorough and deep discernment of the signs of the times. In the meantime, let us strive not just to be easily swayed by all the forces around us, but seek sincerely what is being offered by the season. In the end, what is at stake is not just the happy and meaningful celebration of every Christmas but the grace it gives that we must be able to receive.