Sunday, June 13, 2010

Everything God Willed, Laws Included, Is Meant For Our Goodness

January 18, 2011
Mk. 2:23-28

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is even Lord of the Sabbath." In this pronouncement, the Lord Jesus made clear that the welfare and salvation of man is the ultimate goal of any law. It is man who has a soul and is need of salvation. Man is God's greatest creation. In fact, he was created in God's image and likeness. The Psalmist says that man had been made a little less than a god and have lavished their hearts with God's love. Given with dignity and honor, he was given the authority to rule over all! What a privilege! Compared to a mere law (composed of letters and ideas), man is more important than any creature, hands down!

Sabbath had been designated by God as a "special" day. Not that it is longer, higher in dignity, or very different. It is just any other day save for the fact that it has a distinct purpose. It is separated because God wants man to have a time for himself and God apart from and without the concerns of work and other day to day activities. The separation or sacredness is not in the day itself but the very intent of that day. If man will just work and work, he might not have the time to relate with others and reflect on what is happening in his life. Sunday worship is very helpful here. It is the time to commune with others and God. It is a perfect activity for Sunday.

But Sunday should be celebrated in context and not just as it is. We come to Sunday mass aware that we belong to a community. We hear the Word of God and break bread together symbolizing our unity with each other and God. Vatican II had made a lot of headway in this aspect by making some changes in the way mass is celebrated. Now, there is interaction, exchange, and dialogue. It is hard to imagine a Sunday mass goer praying alone! It defeats the very purpose of the separated day.

There are those who take for granted the Sunday worship. They come in late. They do not participate in the singing and the responses. They do not pay attention to the readings. They do other things like texting, playing games, imagining, reading, and worse, sleeping! They attend just for the sake of it. Maybe to lessen their guilt about not doing something they have been asked to do since they were young. Maybe they are afraid of the consequences of not attending even though they lack belief in it. There maybe a lot of reasons but the fact remains; it is not truly and aptly appreciated. Thus, it is boring to some and optional to many.

The challenge is to know and live its true meaning in our lives. When we are asked to attend it, it is meant to help us be saved. We are not supposed to serve the mass but it must serve us instead. God does not owe us our attendance, rather, we owe it to God and to ourselves. Knowing, loving, and serving Him does not mean the same as we know, love and serve another. What God wants us to do for Him is actually for our own sake. Indeed, everything God commanded is for our good!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Openness Is Newness

January 17, 2011
Mk. 2:18-22

Fasting was part of the spiritual life of the Jews. It was a form of sacrifice. It was an act of controlling one's desires and wants. In the religious context, it was a practice to atone for sins or presenting a sincere heart in prayer. In today's Gospel, Jesus was being questioned because His disciples were not fasting compared to John's who did. The answer of Jesus was a seizing of the opportunity to reveal who He really was and the "newness" He was bringing.

There are those who would easily welcome something new. There are those who would have second thoughts about it. There are those who would reject it outright. The newness Jesus brought was rejected by many especially those in authority. The simple, humble, and the common accepted it but not without some difficulty. The newness of jesus is not about something that had not been there before. Nor was it an improvement. It was a bringing back of what was there. That which was there was lost because of the succeeding laws and rules that those in authority had put. To be fair, the effort was to enhance and make effective the fulfillment of the law. Unfortunately, there was an emphasis in the external rather than in the internal. Accidents were given importance and front page treatment than essence. Thus, the coming of Jesus and His teachings were considered "new".

This was apparent in His two examples. New cloth will tear the old when sewn together. Old wineskin containers would burst when filled with new wine. The teachings of the Lord tore down the legalism and show off mentality of the Pharisees. Jesus' "newness" is actually a going back and bringing out of the true spirit of God's commandments and intentions. The Pharisees had gone used to their customs that they find it hard to accept any change or "new" ideas.

The best attitude is always to be open. Even if we are already comfortable with our present ones, the possibility of "new" ones may come up and we must be ready to incorporate them. Not without sincere discernment, of course. The biggest room is the room for improvement. There is always a space for advancement. In faith, it is more apparent because God continues to reveal Himself to us everyday. We can not say that we already know God fully. We can not say that we have loved Him totally. We can not say that we have served Him for with finality. God is much much greater than us. Newness will always come!

Pro-Life and Pro-Good

January 19, 2011
Mk. 3:1-6
The Man With A Withered Hand

The Jews had a very high, if not an absolute, respect for their laws. These laws were derived and sourced out of the laws given by Yahweh to Moses. Jesus, as a Jew, knew all of these laws by heart and lived them to the full. His parents taught Him these set of commandments which they called the Torah. In the Gospel today, we can dispense the idea that Jesus was not aware of this regard for the Law which includes the law on the Sabbath. As provided in that law, no one is to make any cure on that day, among other things.

But Jesus took the opportunity here, in the case of the man with the withered hand, to bring firth the true and essential spirit of the law. He asked the disturbing question to those who around, "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" Here, he makes a clear distinction, maybe an exception? No, much much more. It is actually the rule rather than an exception. Jesus did not really violate the law but put it in proper perspective. The ultimate end is goodness and life! "Good" here is not the relative worldly good but the absolutely divine good. Life here is really more of life in the Lord than just mere breathing! In that case, it is not against the Torah but a deepening of it. It is not even a disrespect rather, an honor.

Those who are so tied down to the law, like the Pharisees during the time of Jesus, could not accept it. For them, accepting it means the crumbling of everything that they had believed and lived all along. What they could not see was the effort and offer of Jesus to help them transcend the law which they had limited to written and oral rules. Most probably, they felt the compelling message of Jesus behind those pronouncements and actions, but they decided to disregard it and cling to what is "safe" or legal! This attitude is quite prevalent today. Too much regard for the law at the expense of life and goodness!

Once I was in a retreat together with some priests from other countries in Europe, Asia, USA and Latin America, in Novara, Italy. It was in preparation for the formation seminar being given by the Legionaries of Christ to formators (I was then Dean of Studies in Holy Apostles Senior Seminary). Near the end of the retreat, there was an announcement that we would take a break after dinner. That was unusual! It was not part of the program. The reason was not announced. Some priests were smiling. I asked my Argentinian seat mate why. He said that it was because of the World Cup in Football and Italy was playing against Argentina! I could not believe what I heard! Later, watching them watch the game made me appreciate the decision even if I did not fully understood.

There was break from the rule, no doubt. But, as far as the football fans are concerned, it is "good" and maybe, their "life"! Only God knows whether it was reasonable enough or in accordance with the Spirit. I tend to believe it is. The message in today;s Gospel becomes clearer. Each of us, in our heart, has a good connection with God. The decisions we make are guided and influenced by various people, events, and faith. In the end, it is between us and God. As Cardinal Rosales once said, "With love and God, you can not go wrong." Goodness and life are testimonies of loving and a spark of the divine!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Christian Always Gets Going!

January 20, 2011
Mk. 3:7-12

The Lord Jesus became one like us in order to embrace humanity and effect salvation through living life to the full. During His three year ministry, He went around teaching and showing, through His miracles, the Good News of salvation. Whenever necessary, He will heal the sick. It was His best way of empathizing with us and communicating to us His power and love.

In the Gospel we have today, He was being sought by so many people. They were so many that the Lord was afraid that they would crush him...maybe to death! But He did not run away from them. Instead He instructed His apostles to put him on a boat so He could continue His mission. For the Lord, it was His mission first. For the Lord, there is nothing and nobody who could stop him in fulfilling His cause. The unclean spirits recognized it that they themselves, when they saw Him, will fall down before Him and shout, "You are the Son of God!"

As a priest for more than eighteen years, I have already realized the difficulty of being effective in the ministry. Preaching is not an easy task. So is pastoral work, What had consoled me many times in the past is that not everyone who had listened to the Lord's preaching and received the gift of healing changed. The Lord, and the preacher, could only do their best. In the end, the listener or the receiver is responsible. Priesthood may be frustrating. Ministering to the faithful can be very tiring, sad, and even psychotic! Without the necessary vocation and faith, the minister maybe led to disastrous and unwanted end!

But the Lord Jesus was clear in His mission. Salvation! That is much much more than any threat of frustration, sadness or craziness! It is enough reason for and against everything. When the going gets rough, the Lord and the Christian gets going! While it is true that many times giving up seems to be the best thing to do, the Lord will always come to us in and say "no". We never give up on Him and the mission in the same way that He saw through everything to the end up to death!

Grow up!

Feast of the Sto. Nino
Mt. 18:1-5, 10

What about the children that Jesus gives importance to them by setting them as examples? Is it not true that children are sources of irritations because of their questioning without let up? Are they not always breaking, spilling, or deforming things? Are not their cries, tantrums, and rowdiness the cause of so many headaches and anger from their parents and elders? We can enumerate and cite lot more reasons questioning the choice of the Lord Jesus, but the fact remains that He did refer to the children as the greatest in God's Kingdom! (Mt. 18:2). Maybe, all of the complaints we have against children are acceptable to the Lord at their age. But in the Gospel today, the Lord Jesus refers more to the dependence, simplicity, and humility of children

Remember, the concern of the Lord is our salvation. If we are to belong to the Kingdom, we have to know our place before the Lord and have complete faith in Him. It is for this reason that Jesus took the children as models. In the same way that children are dependent on their parents for sustenance and formation, we must also be the same with God. In the same way that children recognizes their place before their parents and elders, we too must relate in the same way. Children rely so much on their parents. We must also rely on God in living our lives. Children know that they came from their parents and therefore their parents know better than them. We know that God created us and therefore should recognize that God knows what is best for us.

Jesus, Himself, was the best example. Though He was God, He willingly fulfilled His role as a child of Mary and Joseph. As an ordinary child, He was born of a mother, lived with His parents, helped them, visited the temple, etc. The Gospel writer and Apostle Luke saw Him growing in wisdom and strength! He did not remain a child, though. He grew up! He was not a"nino" forever. He later preached, made miracles, and suffered and died obeying His Father! He was a perfect Son to His Father. He showed the way to salvation.

Today's feast is not only a recognition of the humanity of the Lord Jesus. Today also is a reminder for all of us that we can achieve salvation with our humanity. We should also grow, in wisdom and strength. We should continue to imbibe the dependence we have to our parents and use it in relating with God. Let us not forget our being creature to God being Creator.

One thing about children, (this is true today as it was during our time), they do not hold grudges. They may have a fierce fight against each other, but they forgive fully! When they say "peace", they really mean it. After the reconciliation, they play as if nothing happened! I believe it will be accurate to say that it is not true with adults. The Lord Jesus is right! The Kingdom belongs to children!