Monday, June 15, 2009

Who Needs Who?

Corpus Christi, the last of the three feasts after the Easter Season was celebrated this Sunday. The feast recognizes God's everlasting love by instituting the Sacrament of the Eucharist where the bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. We remember from Holy Thursday that the Lord Jesus, on the night before He died, gathered His apostles for the Passover meal. It was traditional to the Jews in remembrance of the day when God protected Israel from the plague of death which was responsible for the death of the son of the Pharaoh who was obstinate in setting the Israelites free from Egyptian bondage. This time, Jesus intended it for the liberation of mankind from sin. He would do it later by dying on the cross. The Eucharist would be a continuation of the saving action done on the cross whenever it is celebrated (remembered).
In that institution, the Lord Jesus commanded His apostles to eat His Body (the bread) and drink His blood (the wine). Here, we believe that the bread turned into His real and true Body and the wine turned into His real and true Blood. Otherwise, He should have said "This is the symbol of my body." and "This is the symbol of my blood." In another scene with His enemies during the Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus told His listeners to eat His Body because He is the living bread that came down from heaven (John 6:49-56). They were taken aback by the commandment. Bread was their staple food and they would easily understand if He took it as a symbol of His claim. But instead of being clear about it by claiming that He was the Bread of Life in the same way that the bread is their main sustenance for life, He told them to eat His flesh and drink His blood! Scot Hahn, a respected Protestant Scripture scholar saw this truth. He said that Jesus would have said "symbol" if it was the truth. That "truth" in fact was greatly responsible for His death. If He is to die, He should die for the Truth. But the Truth was what He said. He is the living bread that came down form heaven and whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood will have eternal life.
The Eucharist is the Church's treasure. The Eucharist is found in the mass. That is why the mass is the greatest celebration of Christian worship. The mass is a remembrance of the saving action in Calvary. Whenever we celebrate the mass, it is the Lord Jesus who is present in His Body and Blood. Not a symbol, not a sign, not an idea, but Him par excellence! Our belief on this rests our regard and respect for the celebration and the place. If we believe tat the Lord is really present there, we will just be too happy and excited to come to mass and meet the Lord! What religion could give you such a unique and prestigious opportunity? But God made it that way so that we will be able to respond appropriately.
But our ways reflect our taking for granted, neglect, indifference, flippancy, and disregard for it; lack of preparation, coming in late, not actively participating, not listening, and others. This once a week opportunity is sometimes compromised. Many who go abroad would give the reason that they were busy with the tour or that no church was available. I have been in other countries too and I know that a church is available if one will just ask! Unless we realize the importance of this encounter with God, we would not exert much effort to fulfill it. Unless we realize our need for it, it would remain just an option which we may or may not take. It should be interesting to note that there are places or peoples in this world that hunger for the Eucharist but they could not avail of it because circumstances would not allow priests to come to them. They would be without mass for days, months, or even years! In the recent pastoral letter of Cardinal Rosales, he made mention of a group of martyrs in Abythynia who asked permission to celebrate mass in prison because they say, "Without Sunday, we can not live!"
As a last point, it should be clear to us that the Lord Jesus being present to us in the mass is for our benefit. It is for our salvation. We are the ones in need of the Lord. We owe it to Him to have provided us with this act of worship. God does not need us to attend mass. At most, His need is for our own benefit. He wants us to be saved. He wants us to be with Him in His Kingdom. Therefore, let us live and act aware of this important truth. So much in our lives rest on believing this truth.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Student For Good And For God!

Once I wondered why the Catholic Church was into the field of education. Particularly, I am referring to establishing educational institutions like college, universities, and parochial schools. Today, all over the world, there are numerous educational institutions that are being ran by either Catholic religious congregations or by parishes. In the secular world, these Catholic educational institutions are known to give high quality education. They also provide good if not the best services available for their students; professors, facilities, buildings, books, laboratories, etc. They are the main reasons why they also charge a substantial amount of school fees. Catholic institutions are best known for skyrocket tuition and miscellaneous fees. The poor would have little chance of landing in a Catholic institution unless, maybe, because of a scholarship grant.

So, why is the Catholic Church into education? I believe it can be traced back to the medieval times when the Church, through religious priests, were at the of service of the royalty and were regularly relating with the rich and powerful at the time. The religious priests were considered with respect not only because of their status as men and women of God but also because they belong to the few learned kind. They saw the opportunity of influencing these leaders through their children, the future heir to the throne, the riches, and the powers of their elders. By offering them the best education, they can also integrate faith in the process. The ultimate goal is to have graduates who are not only intelligent and excellent in their field, but men and women of faith. They sought to relate everything to faith. They hoped that when these students finally assume the leadership and positions whom their elders occupy, they would be men and women leaders in faith! Thus, Catholic educational institutions were really intended to produce disciples of the faith. With them holding the key and powerful positions, propagation of the faith will be better if not easier. (However, once I was asked by friend about what is happening now to our Catholic education? Why is it that in spite of the Catholic education of many of our professionals who were graduates of prestigious schools like Ateneo, De La Salle, Assumption, UST, and UA&P, to name a few, corruption, deception, dishonesty, and illegalities still exists, and at a grand level at that! Much more, many of our government officials were graduates of respected Catholic schools and yet, un-Christian behaviors proliferate! Good question! I was caught flat-footed! I could not find a satisfactory answer.)

Last Sunday, we integrated the rite praying for a good school year for the students with the feast of the Blessed Trinity. The Trinity, being a community of love, is the best guide and protection for the students who will be facing a lot of challenges during the school year. We decided to do the rite for the sake of the students. They need a lot of prayers so that they will be protected and freed from the tentacles of drugs, lasciviousness, dishonesty, violence, diseases, abuses, accidents, and many more. We prayed that they will be focused in their studies and not be affected by the many distractions present around them.

In that celebration, I took the opportunity to remind both parents and students the real goal of education. Education, while it aims to acquire knowledge, has a very virtuous and serious goal. Having great knowledge provides one an opportunity to gain power, fame, and eventually, riches. For some, these are the main or ultimate goals of knowledge gained from education. But, as far as our faith is concerned, it goes beyond material or temporal gains. Its ultimate goal should be salvation. Whatever is learned should always be used for the greater glory of God. Education should lead to salvation. Education should not only make one rich, powerful, or famous, but more importantly, holy! Yes, holy! Unfortunately, to many, the word or the state of being holy is not achievable or close to being impossible, as if, Saints were created or made perfect from birth! Much more, that Saints were exceptional human beings. Actually they were not! They were just the same as all of us, until they attained the that distinct calling from God to turn away from sin and follow Him. Holiness, in other words, is a decision we make, not a hocus focus of God. We can be holy if we want to be holy. In the same way, we can be evil if we want to be evil!

I further pointed out in that celebration that parents should help their children realize this purpose. Parents should not be obsessed with just making their children get rich, famous, and powerful. The best result they could have for children is to be men and women of faith. They should be Christian doctors, Christian lawyers, Christian accountants, Christian teachers, etc. The stress is in the adjective Christian! This is God's expectation of their children and of them as parents. Other achievements fall below this main purpose. The Lord Jesus said, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his own soul!" For what is the best education if the educated will not use it for God's greater glory? Education, if use in accordance with God's Holy Will, is a gift and a blessing! But used against God, it is a gift that becomes a curse. The anticipated majestic and blissful climax hopefully will not be twisted to end in a tragedy! 

(As a little note, I pray that students will study to learn and not just for the grades!)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Sacrament Of Matrimony Is Priceless!

In today's news in SAKSI (GMA 7 Evening News), it reported that more and more couples prefer civil marriage than "church marriage" or more appropriately called the Sacrament of Matrimony. The main reason given was financial. With civil marriage, the only fees being paid are about a thousand pesos. The presiding officer is not given any stipend. Mr. Steve Tamayo, a well known church wedding caterer, said that it will take about a hundred thousand to have a church wedding. It covers church fees, wedding gowns, the reception, etc. Bishop Broderick Pabillo, an Auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Manila, was interviewed, but I believe his explanations were edited. I am sure he was able to explain it well, but due to the constraints of television, he was just limited to his sadness about the way the sacrament was being perceived. In fact, I received a text message from him early in the evening advising me of the interview and even requested me to pass it to others. It is my intention in this blog to shed more light on the matter.
Based on the report and the interviews done by the reporter, the nature and necessity of the Sacrament of Matrimony seemed unclear to many. The sacrament is seen as not different save for the "blessings" of the church or of God. As to its essential meaning and purpose, either they are very much wanting or they are not at all aware. Before the eyes of faith, civil marriage is not recognized as deemed by God. In the eyes of God and faith, there is only one marriage and that is the "church marriage." Civil marriage only makes the union legal but not the sacramental or salvific union. The church marriage is more than just a union of two people but a witnessing to the love between Jesus and the People of God. As baptized persons, it is only apt that they be united in the sacrament. As children of God, it follows that they should live together according to the will of the God they believe in. Their marriage in church affords them of salvation. The statements of those interviewed, which maybe considered as predominantly the view of many nominal Catholics, expressed that they are already contented or just settled for civil marriage because church marriage, allegedly, is expensive. They thought that civil marriage already frees them from their moral and spiritual responsibility before God. Maybe they were able to save a lot, but at what cost? Further, granted for the sake of argument, that it is true that the sacrament, which we believe to be necessary for salvation, needs to be paid, are we not going to do everything to have it? Are we not willing to receive it at all cost?

Let it be clear that the sacrament is never for sale or needed to be paid. It is not being offered in exchange of something. All it requires is our faith. If it is for sale, by virtue  of its ultimate importance, it should cost us an unquantifiable amount! Megazillions of pesos will be too cheap for an act that will facilitate our salvation! Precisely, it is priceless! Priceless in the sense that nobody can buy it with all the riches in the world. And priceless because it is without a price. It is a gift from God!
Actually, the thousand pesos that couples spend in a civil wedding is much much expensive than the simplest of church weddings! What really makes a church wedding expensive are the non-essentials couples (not the church, take important note!) require or need. A church wedding can happen with only the following; Baptismal Certificate, Confirmation Certificate, Pre-Cana Seminar, the couple, the priest, a pair of witnesses, and holy water. Churches actually can accept even only voluntary donations from the couple. The "donations" are not payments (and therefore no demands may come from the couple and no commitments from the church). These donations will be spent as support to the maintenance of the church (electricity, water, cleaning materials, etc.) and salaries for its personnel. Even with nothing shelled out, a couple maybe given the sacrament. So what makes a church wedding expensive? Why is it expensive? Who makes it expensive?
If the couple wanted something more than the basic requirements mentioned in the previous paragraph like; reception, wedding gowns, flowers, red carpet, singers, air-condition, videos and still pictures, new and expensive rings, and other things, then it is really expensive. But take note, these are not required by the church. It is the couple who wanted them for themselves. The couple are the ones who are making their church wedding expensive. It is expensive because of their "ek-eks" or luxuries. The sacrament maybe celebrated, in fact best celebrated, without these luxuries. In fact they give the wrong impression that a luxury wedding will result to a beautiful marriage. Some couples have to admit it. Church weddings are good opportunities for them to have a"bongga" or grand wedding. Without making judgments, there maybe couples who do not really believe in a church marriage but still does it because the church and church rite are perfect for their purpose of maybe showing off their riches and popularity. 

In my previous and present parish, I never encouraged mass weddings. Mass weddings provide opportunity for couples to receive the sacrament free. But they come across as less dignified because they are usually only for the so called "poor".  It is as if the rich, who can "pay" the church, are the only ones who can marry on their own and mass weddings are for those who can not "pay".Although it was once made obligatory by the late Cardinal Sin, I told couples that they are entitled to choose their wedding dates and they deserve to be married alone, donations or no donations, "payments" or no "payments". Money is not an issue here. It is their faith in God and in the sacrament that is the matter. If indeed they are not capable of giving any contributions to the church, so be it. Money is not a requirement for the effectivity of the sacrament anyway. As a pastor, I am just very glad to minister to couples who want to be saved by availing of the sacrament. However, it is not appropriate if we will encounter a couple who would not give any donation to the church and yet will have their reception in a five star hotel, dressed in expensive gowns and tuxedos, adorn the church with so many flowers, and a videographer recording their wedding. In other words, they are willing to spend for some wedding luxuries but nothing for the support of the church which will be serve them! Besides, the "donations" (not payment) being given were to be used to sustain the utility and personnel maintenance of the church. The money being received is to ensure the basic services for the apostolate of the church.
Therefore, it is wrong to say that church marriages are expensive. What is true is that church marriages are necessary and are given for free. Rates are being given by different parishes in order to give the donors an idea of how much non-essential services may entail. But they are not required to give the suggested rates. If it is going to be expensive, it is because of the couple's preferences and not because the of the requirements of the church.

(Just to prove this, couples may go to any Catholic church and just be honest about their situation. The pastor should make every effort to help them receive the sacrament. If the pastor still insists on the "donations" even if the couple had already intimated their situation, the couple may go to the bishop and ask for his help. But I am sure, the pastor would be able to address the situation in his level.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Never Challenge God's Presence (or Test God's Patience)

In the parable of the vineyard, Jesus depicted so much violence. The owner of the vineyard sent his emissaries in order to ask for the produce of the vineyard from the caretakers. One by one, the emissaries were treated harshly and some were even killed. Finally, the owner sent his beloved son thinking that they would respect him. But the son was also killed. In the end, the owner  vowed that he will render justice to these killers.

Jesus used the parable to remind the leaders of His time about what had been done to those sent by God to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom and the need for repentance. However, we can not help but notice the seeming silence of God during those times when everyone He has sent including His Son were rejected or killed. Why was God not doing anything to address the crimes being committed against His very anointed? Why did He allow the killings to happen? Was He helpless against them? Definitely not. But we can not ignore the fact that the silence was deafening. What happened was just too much to be ignored or allowed. Do we really have an absentee God? 

Even the evils that are happening in the present times are very dangerous, aggressive, massive, prevalent, and arrogant. Gone are the days when those who commit the crimes are afraid of being seen or caught. The criminals are not that afraid anymore. In fact, the victims are more afraid than the perpetrators. Now, it seems that crimes are easier to commit and when caught, easier to free oneself from. People are sometimes helpless against evil. These led many to believe that maybe there is really no God and He is just a pigment of the imagination. For it is true that if He does exist, then, these evil things we experience around us would not have been allowed. Where God is present, evil has no place. Since evil is everywhere, then God must be nowhere!

But we believe otherwise. We just celebrated the Feast of Pentecost, the day when Jesus fulfilled His promise to be with us through His Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God's guarantee of His presence in the world. So, where is the Spirit? How is God present? But there is a more relevant question than these. More than these information, the key to understanding this seeming absence of God is to know who He is in the face of these situations. He is actually not absent. God deals with man's sin the way He sees effective. once when Jesus was passing through a Samaritan town on the way to Jerusalem, the people rejected them. The apostles, angry at those who disrespected and rejected the Lord, asked the Lord Jesus to send fire to the people. But Jesus did not agree to the proposal of the apostles which was out of impulsive anger. The Lord Jesus was patient. His way is the way of love, forgiveness, and compassion. The best way to win souls is not by punishment or revenge but with love. The best testimony to this was when He was put to death on the cross. He was without sin and He was with all the power to stop His crucifixion. But He did not go against the very will of His Father. Souls will be won through love even if it will entail giving up His life by dying on the cross. 

If we stop and think about it, that is how God with us at all times. Let us make ourselves as examples. With the many sins we have committed, what do we deserve as punishment? What life do we deserve? What fate should we have? Is it not that the truth is that God had been super patient with us? Not that He would not render justice for every sin we have committed. That would come. Maybe here, or in the next life. Maybe now or later. Meantime, God's concern is to win us. Just like in the Parable of the Wheat and The Weeds when the field owner allowed the weeds to grow among the wheat and not to uproot them for the wheat may also be uprooted. The message of the parable was that God wanted to give the sinners (weeds) to change. Salvation is addition. Jesus promised to save everyone. No one will be lost. And so, He will do everything to save everyone.

It will do no good to keep on questioning God's presence. It will be an act of arrogance to test God's patience. Jephtah's story, Judges Chapter 11, should be a strong warning to us never to lose faith in God and never to offer Him anything in exchange for something we want otherwise we may lose even those things that are valuable to us. Facing a seeming defeat from the Ammonites, Jephtah turned to the Lord. In return for victory in battle, he vowed to God that he would sacrifice to God the first thing he saw on his return home. Jephtah won the battle and returned home. As he approached his house, his beloved only daughter ran out to meet him, which meant he had to sacrifice her to fulfill his promise. Jephtah need not bargained with God. God promised to be with him in battle. But he lost faith. He doubted God's presence. Worse, he challenged God. God taught him a lesson. Unfortunately, it cost the life of his daughter.

We have a patient God. We must acquire His patient attitude. Much more, we must exercise that patience to God's patience. Jesus already assured us of His present in the Holy Spirit. What we ought to do is to recognize His presence in the Spirit. "The stone rejected by the builders became the cornerstone." says Scriptures. Evil can never defeat God. Evil is afraid of God. Evil preys on us. If we do not allow evil, it can not do anything against us. If we recognize the presence of the Spirit, the evil spirit has no place in us. God prevailed then, He prevails now, He will prevail till the end and beyond time.