Saturday, September 26, 2009


N.B. What follows is a talk I gave to clergy and catechists on the occasion of the Annual Catechetical Conference of Archdiocese of Guam on September 26, 2009

First and foremost, I would like to thank Reverend Larry Claros for the gracious invitation for me to give a talk in this catechetical conference. Back home in Manila, this is my bread and butter. I teach, preach, talk, write, and do a whole lot with anything that involves words, that is, educate, and otherwise, move, push, cajole, inspire, enable, empower, and energize - and, disturb – people with the power inherent in something we all take for granted – the power of words – and, let me add very quickly, the power of the Word with a capital W.

I have been teaching for the past 32 years – and counting!

At the very outset, let me be honest with you. I do not mean to take potshots at the organizers, but let me tell you that I do not like the title of my talk. I was asked to talk about “the role” of the pastor on the faith formation of the parish.

Before you bowl me out of this hall as persona non grata, let me explain.

Role denotes and connotes function. It refers, as we all know, to something we need to fulfill, a slot that needs filling in, a space that needs to be occupied. It refers also to something that needs to be done, a responsibility that, in the event the one originally deputed to do it cannot or is unable to fulfill it, can be substituted for, by someone else, by anyone, for that matter, who has the qualifications and all the titles necessary for him to do it.

The secular world is all too familiar with this. One goes through a certain number of years of studies to qualify oneself; one goes through a series of qualifying or board exams, and after all the efforts expended and the appropriate degrees or academic titles are earned, one goes through a ritual that puts one in the same league as those who have previously earned their laurels.

The title, degree, or academic achievement puts you in the same level of the literati, the periti – if if you will – or resident experts on just about any topic under the sun, including the sun itself. The three or more letters after your name, qualifies you then to stand in for another who holds an equivalent or similar degree, and automatically makes you qualified to substitute for, to stand in place of, and to represent somebody of the same caliber as you are.

Such is the way of the secular world.

But such is not the way the ordained pastor, priest, preacher, and presider in the Roman Catholic tradition follows.

If we are to speak of the former, then all one needs to do to be qualified on something is to measure up to standards and submit oneself to a formal ritual, say the commencement ceremonies, or graduation rites.

If we are to speak of the latter, however, the ordination rites go far beyond what civil rituals in the secular world can offer. We speak of something that only those who understand sacramental theology can fully fathom. We speak of something that has no parallels in secular culture, for sacramental culture, in the Catholic tradition, as we catechists know only too well, refers to signs that effect what they signify, not just on the superficial plane of diplomas and certificates that are good only for hanging on walls, but they are signs that point to a very deep change in the person who receives that sign. There is a 64 dollar word for it … we refer to such a deep inner change as ontological, not merely existential, change. I don’t mean to bore you, but it only means something that changes from deep, deep down the person, not just external, superficial, and cosmetic change that the postmodern world, unfortunately, is so well-versed in.

But I sound like I don’t address the topic at hand. I was asked to speak about the role of the pastor on the faith formation of the parish. So far, I have only succeeded in registering my dislike for the word “role.”

Let me tell you now what I like with regards to the title, before I speak more of what I don’t like.

I like the fact that “pastor” and “faith formation” are placed side by side, almost like as if to say the two are intricately related. I like this, not just owing to a mere personal preference, but because the Church that I love likes it that way. Yes … priest – and you may call him any which way you like, like ordained minister, pastor, father, etc – and faith formation are inseparable concepts. If they are inseparable, when we say priest, we just don’t refer to a role, a function, or an office. The priest is no bit player in the drama called life. The priest is not one who “struts and frets his hour upon the stage.” Whilst I submit there is an element of drama in the Roman Catholic liturgy, the liturgy itself is never just drama. The priest is not part of the “dramatis personae,” with a role to play in a mere performance that we refer to as liturgy. He does not fill-in for anyone. He does not substitute for anyone. He does not take the place of anyone. He is no mere stand-in, like a proxy at a board meeting. Yes … despite the fact that some priests behave like Messiahs, I am sorry, but the world happens to already have one … only one, and that is Jesus Christ the one Lord and Savior!

What then am I talking about?

Simply this … priest and proclamation go hand in hand. Martin Luther, who did some right things, but didn’t do them rightly, hit the nail right on the head when he insisted on preaching as the main task of the priest. But this is where his teachings get really really off the mark when he insisted that a priest who never preaches the Word of God has stopped functioning and thereby ceases to be a priest.

So let’s get things straight from here onwards.

And this for good reason ... If we claim, as indeed, we have claimed just now, that priest and proclamation go hand in hand, that pastor and evangelization are inseparable entities, then in order for us to talk about faith formation, we can neither prescind from, nor can we ignore talking about the identity of this priest-proclaimer, this priest-prophet, this priest who also acts as pastor in your respective parishes.

And I said I didn’t like the word “role.”

It’s been several years since I did a careful reading of Fr. Donald Cozzen’s book “The Changing Face of the Priesthood.” If I remember well, part of what he is saying is that the priesthood has been steadily evolving from a mere “cultic model” of priesthood that is more at home to being in the sacristy and engaging in sacred rituals, to an image of “servant-leader” who is engaged in service to the world and to society.

I don’t know about you, and what sort of theology was drummed into you, but I just don’t like the word “role.” From where I come, playing a mere “role” in the liturgy, no matter how solemn, is not my theological cup of tea. But neither does playing the role of a social worker fit my understanding of a priest exactly to a T.

The priest maybe that at times. As pastor, he may be engaged day-in and day-out in presiding over the liturgy. The priest may be servant-leader, too. He may be manning soup kitchens even on a regular basis, and doing community-organizing week-in and week-out, but the priest is more than just a cultic leader and definitely more than a community-organizer.

And although this may not be too much to people’s liking, I need to do theology with you, here and now. And mind you, theology is meant to be, and has always been, at the service of the Magisterium. I would sincerely hope that as catechists and evangelizers yourselves, I would not have a repeat of what in at least one theological center in Manila, certain students do every time a document from the Vatican is read in class … hoot, howl, heckle , and – pardon the pun – raise hell, against anything that comes from anywhere near Rome, the Vatican, the Holy Office, and the Pope!

You see, when we speak of priest, we need to speak of proclamation. For I have it on the authority of long-standing Church teaching and tradition that as ordained ministers, all priests – and, a fortiori – all Pastors, are changed men from deep inside. Yes, you guessed it right. Like all of you who received Baptism and Confirmation, priests received an indelible sacramental character that changed them – here comes again that 64 dollar word – ontologically. And if they are changed men, from deep within their person, the soul receiving a seal – a sphragys in Greek – then we cannot speak of mere roles. We cannot speak of mere function, like being a servant-leader, a coordinator, or part of a team of rah-rah boys to goad us on, and give superficial encouragement to the weak of heart.

When we speak of priest-proclaimers, priest-preachers, and priest-celebrants of the Liturgy, we speak not of someone who fits a social-functional model of leadership and whose essence of priesthood is thus reduced to service. We need no rites of ordination for social workers, house-builders, and community organizers. But in the Roman Catholic tradition, priests are ordained for ministry, and ministry, for the less Latin-challenged amongst us, as you well know, comes from the word “munus” which means task or office. From a sacramental-ontological point of view, therefore, we speak – nay, the Holy Father, following Church tradition, speaks of the TRIA MUNERA given as gifts, to men ordained as priests.

This tria munera, more properly understood not in terms of three distinct tasks, but in terms of three aspects of the same priestly office, thus points to someone who is configured unto Christ, priest, prophet, and king. Apropos this, John Paul II, of happy memory, wrote:

“If we analyze carefully the conciliar texts, it is obvious that one should speak of a triple dimension of Christ’s service and mission, rather than of three different functions. In fact, these functions are closely linked to one another, explain one another, condition one another, and clarify one another. Consequently, it is from this threefold unity that our sharing in Christ’s mission and office takes its origin.”

I understand that today’s postmodern sensibilities are loathe to accepting the concept of “power.” Whilst preconciliar theology often tended to emphasize the powers of the priesthood, in its attempt to explain the tria munera, it will be worth our while to get to the bottom of what those “powers” really were meant to convey. Maybe the word is not too pleasant to our postmodern ears, but, on the basis of our sacramental-ontological model of priesthood, the tria munera, is first understood as gift, and only then, as an office. It is also first understood as participation, before it is seen as potestas or power.

And this is where, again, we need to dig a little deeper theologically. Presbyterorum Ordinis says that “priests are signed with a special character and so are configured to Christ the priest in such a way that they are able to act in the person of Christ the Head.”

In persona Christi capitis Writing in connection with this, Jean Galot says: “the priestly character is not added to the other two (Baptism and Confirmation). It deepens the mark already there by imprinting upon the self the project of a priestly life that is to come to fruition with the help of graces conferred during the exercise of ministry.” And this is the important point: “What distinguishes the priestly character from the character impressed by baptism and confirmation is that of a man’s being is conformed to Christ the Shepherd. The image of the good shepherd is impressed on the soul of the ordained person as a principle and basic blueprint of the ministry to be carried out … The priestly character is character in the highest degree, in its most complete realization, the most intense participation in the priesthood of Christ.” Participation comes first, as gift, not as merited, earned, and claimed. This participation stands at the basis of the priest’s power. That power is not for oneself, but for the community, for others, for the people of God. The priest acts in persona Christi, and in persona ecclesiae – a man for others.

Where, then, does all this deep theologizing lead to? Where do we go from here, then? This is the juicy part, but the juice does not come from the skin. It comes from the pulp, the center, from deep down. Getting to the core, then, lends us the luxury to go into the details with serenity, surety, and certainty. Understanding the deep theology of the priesthood allows us sufficient latitude to go into far-ranging consequences that would not hold water if they did not get down to, and spring from, the core. These consequences might sound simple but never simplistic.

Let me go to some of them …

1. A priest is a pastor and proclaimer. He cannot just be a pastor and sit idly by watching evangelization happen – or not happen, as is often the case. He has to make it happen, for, apart from the Bishop, he is the one who participates most (essentially, not just in degree) in the tria munera of Christ the Supreme High Priest. Benedict XVI speaks of the primacy of proclamation thus:

“Jesus speaks of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God as the true purpose of his coming into the world and his proclamation is not only a discourse. At the same time, it includes his action: the signs and miracles that he works show that the Kingdom comes into the world as a present reality which ultimately coincides with Jesus Himself … Word and sign are indivisible. Christian preaching does not proclaim “words,” but the Word, and the proclamation coincides with the very person of Christ, ontologically open to the relationship with the Father and obedient to His will … For the priest then, being the “voice” of the Word is not merely a functional aspect. On the contrary it implies a substantial “losing of himself” in Christ, participating with his whole being in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection: his understanding, his freedom, his will and the offering of His body as a living sacrifice.” (Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation of the Clergy).

2. Evangelization is not an adjunct, not a value-added feature to the work of education that we do. Evangelization cannot be relegated to a department or subject-area that needs to be entrusted only to a department head or subject area coordinator. We are called to be evangelizers, and not just to give quality education. We educate by evangelizing, and we evangelize by educating.

3. The third flows from this second statement. Religion ought not to be considered a mere subject to teach but a way of life to share. For this to happen, an appropriate culture needs to be established in school and that culture needs to be a patently Christian, Catholic culture. If it is a way of life that needs to be inculcated, part of our responsibility as evangelizers is to see to it that that culture becomes the dominant culture, and not as a mere sub-culture as happens in many so-called catholic universities in the mainland. Evangelii Nuntiandi, number 20 speaks of the need to evangelize culture or cultures. But it insists that it should go beyond putting on a thin veneer on the surface. For this to happen, we perhaps may need to put a cap on the number (relative to the total number of students, of course), of non-christians admitted to our schools, especially if their aim is only to get a good education. Our goal is to guarantee that our students get to breathe and live daily an experience of Church, of getting to know first hand that it is possible to live an experience of Church even in an educational setting, where integration of faith and life happens on a day-to-day basis.

If you notice, I have been a little biased in my talk. I have to be. The topic given to me was the role of the pastor on the faith formation of the parish. This I did, by first dismantling and doing away with the word “role.” We spoke of munus, of participation that translates into potestas, and not the other way around. We spoke of integration, of faith and life, of the fact that being gifted, one is sent. We spoke of the fact, too, that being consecrated (ordained) we as priests are also by that very fact, commissioned. Our consecration leads us to mission. This simply put is what that means … We cannot just be cultic, without being catechetic in outlook and action. We are priests, pastors, preachers, managers, administrators, social workers, community organizers. But we cannot be all this alone and still think we do justice to our priesthood. We ought to be all this and evangelizers all at once.

A tall order, you say? You bet!

And this is why I would like, at this juncture, to quote Vicki Thorn, the founder of Project Rachel:

“A priest is a man clothed in tenderness, who speaks God’s mercy, who prophetically pronounces the truth, unpleasant though it might be, and who reflects God’s love to a hurting world. Sometimes he is shoring up souls and sometimes he is breaking up concrete. He’s comforting the grieving and challenging the young. He’s soothing the dying and blessing the newborn.”

And this leads me to something that up till now, you may be thinking I might have forgotten. Where does all this talk about priest, prophet, and king lead all the lay people here in this hall to? Where does all this leave you, my dear lay friends? If the priest is proclaimer par excellence, what are we to make you? What are you to make of yourselves?

Before you consider yourselves off the hook, hold your peace. Before you decide that the first speaker this morning is guilty not only of male chauvinism but also of clericalism, lend me your ears a short while more.

Your pastor needs you. The Church needs you. And you are not just needed in a selfish and manipulative way by your pastors, for want of work horses to do the dirty work for them, or battering rams to forge their way toward hostile territory (read: non catholic grounds). No … evangelization is as much your mission as ours. By virtue of the royal priesthood of the laity, to which we as baptized and confirmed individuals, prior even to our ordination, were also called to, consecrated for, and sent. We are all in it together. This is the basic and common Christian mission – the great commission, as sometimes it is referred to.

Pope Paul VI already made that clear long ago … “the primary and immediate task of the laity is to bring the gospel to bear on the affairs of the world.” Lumen Gentium teaches us that lay faithful participate in Christ’s prophetic mission when “the power of the gospel … shines out in daily family and social life” (LG 35). The laity also share in Christ’s priestly mission when they unite themselves to him and to his sacrifice in the offering they make of themselves and their daily activities (34). And they participate in Christ’s royal mission when by serving others in Jesus’ name, they spread his kingdom.

Although it sounds like a truism and a triviality, I would like to say, that it does not do much good to have a leader in the parish if there is not many willing to be led. It does not make us get too far if we have a shepherd’s voice booming out and no sheep to hear his voice. It takes two to tango. One of the big problems of postmodernity is the so-called crisis of leadership. But I would like to venture out and add, that it is as much a crisis of leadership, as a crisis of the led. We priests and laity are all called to the same goal and mission. It is no accident that the word “parish” in English, really came from a Greek word paroikos which tells us everything about the relationship between pastor and laity. Paroikos means a house beside mine. It means “dwelling beside.” I don’t know about Chamorro culture, but back home, neighbors do not just dwell beside one another. In Hebrew mentality, neighbors just don’t give a “hello and good-bye” greeting day-in and day-out. They were experts on hospitality, on walking together, on doing things together, living as they were in the midst of so much natural and man-made hostile elements, as nomads.

Vicki Thorn understood it. Mother Teresa understood it too. And so did great women luminaries and saints of the stature of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena and many others. They took priests to task. They even pointed a menacing scolding finger at the Holy Father and the anti-Pope, as Catherine did. But their prophecy of denunciation eventually led them to annunciation. They did not just tear down walls. They built a Church. Together, they chose to gather and build community. They took to their roles as priest, prophet and king themselves like unto Christ the Supreme Shepherd. But without in any way insisting to become what the Lord did not call them to be, they did what they were called to, like all priests are called to prior to their being ordained for ministry – be evangelizers and disciples of the Lord. Like Mary, his mother, the first disciple, the first among the redeemed, blessed among all women, who conceived and brought forth the Word become flesh.

And if we insist on speaking about roles, this is it … all of us, whether ordained or lay, are called to conceive and nurture the word, until we reach the fullness of stature of Christ, the Word eternal!

Monday, July 27, 2009


18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
August 2, 2009

The Israelites who wandered in the desert did not just have wants. They whined, wailed and grumbled against Moses and Aaron, even as they pined for what they sorely missed back “home” in Egypt – decent food, real food … along with familiar relative creature comforts. Never mind that they were slaves … put aside the fact that they were not free … forever doing work that bore no lasting fruit for them and the whole community then in bitter exile.

But today’s liturgy seals for posterity the truth about God and His loving intervention on His people’s welfare: “The Lord gave them bread from heaven,” (Psalm 78:24) as our enthusiastic response to the first reading puts it… not just material bread, assuredly … not just “food that perishes,” but “food that endures for eternal life.” (cf Jn 6:27)

How myopic and shallow we modern “Israelites” could be! We are being led by the Lord towards fullness of life and here we are complaining about what we think is a raw deal we are getting! Like the Israelites of old, we cannot stand being out there in the desert of long-haul commitment of hope and self-denial, and we pine for the short-term, though illusory, solutions provided by a world mired in a culture of instant, easy, but shallow answers to the deepest questions and desires that go beyond our want for mere material bread.

We all, young and old alike, are now captivated by the “ningning” (glitter) of superficial solutions to our wants and problems that come from a seeping culture of shallow consumerism, espoused by the rapidly shrinking globalized and media-controlled world of malls, “eatertainment” and “retailtainment” centers, awash in escapist telenovelas, chinovelas and anime presentations.

The world offers us bread – and not much else besides and beyond!

But the world – and that means each one of us – wants and needs more than just bread. We are in search for something more, something deeper, something nobler and greater – an authentic and all encompassing desire that stands behind all our little wants and needs. This is something which the world and all it offers, cannot give, notwithstanding its “ningning” and, at times, even overwhelming power to attract us.

For deep beneath the surface reality of our inauthentic desires, lie our deepest wantings and yearnings for God, for fullness of life, for meaning and for union and oneness with our Creator. We long for bread. But we want more than just manna. And the Lord gives us more than just bread. “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread fro heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (Jn 6:32-33)

It is time we acknowledged to ourselves and to God the reality of our deepest wanting. God is never far from our deepest desires. God can never be far from what He Himself has implanted deep in our nature as relational beings. God is there, where all the action in our life is – in the source of our deepest wanting. It is time we set aside the inauthentic, “deceitful desires” (Eph 4:22) that have corrupted us, and get to the task at hand: to “be renewed in the spirit of [our] minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way of righteousness and holiness of truth.” (Eph 4:24)

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Sunday Morning Worship Guide & Reflection
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B July 26, 2009

Sin has caused so much alienation, division and disunity. Since Adam and Eve began hiding from the Lord in the garden after the first fall, humankind has gone a long way toward deepening and widening that primordial rift between and among peoples and nations. The last century that saw two great world wars, not to mention the so many little wars of attrition waged in so many places, and the coming into vogue of violent terroristic acts all over the world are a collective testament to the crying need for oneness. This utter lack of unity does not spare the world’s great religions, Christianity included, now divided into so many different denominations and aggrupations – and still counting!

Humanly speaking, there is no solution to this impasse! There is very little that humankind can do to make that elusive dream of generations become a reality. Kipling’s inspired aphorism seems to express this best: “East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet!” Even within our home shores, our tiny nation of 7,100 islands is continually buffetted by the raging storms of ethnic and political strife, not to mention the sad fact that the Philippines, as one author describes it, is nothing more, nothing less than “an anarchy of families.” The past, present, and future of the Philippines, its welfare and well-being (or the gross lack of it), depend a whole lot on just a few family economic and political dynasties. The official mainstream economy, moreover, pales in comparison to the magnitude of the unofficial, so-called “underground” economy, that has remained the blight – and the single most important obstacle – to economic and social growth that would benefit the masses. Humanly speaking, there is no hope for such a sad state of affairs.

There was no hope either, from the purely human viewpoint, when the Lord asked Philip: “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” This, Philip knew as much, for in his quick mental math, he reckoned quite accurately: “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” But hope is not human. It is divine. It comes from above. Our catechism teaches us that hope, along with faith and love, are so-called “theological” virtues, which have been infused in us in our baptism. Hope, like faith and love, is a gift from God, grace from above, beyond the mere mortal power of any human. This divine hope shines out well in Andrew’s well-meaning offer – the boy’s offering of five barley loaves and two fish, an offering reminiscent of the Old Testament’s offerings of first fruits, reminiscent, too, of the poor offering of two turtledoves of Mary and Joseph during the presentation at the Temple! Nothing is too insignificant for God when freely offered to Him! No offering ever is poor and worthless offering for God when it is given willingly and without reserve! The humanly impossible became possible on account of the “hopeful offering” of Andrew and the boy who gave his all. Bread was multiplied in order to be shared: “Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them … When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.’”

Unity is God’s dream, before it was ours! Unity is God’s work prior to its becoming our own work. God Himself does the wonders, the miraculous multiplication in view of the sharing, along with the “gathering,” the unifying, the making of all of us caught in this sinful mess into one, single mass – the Church! Today, in this Mass, he gives us bread to share. And He gives us hope to spare! Truly, “the hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs!”

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Sunday Morning Worship Guide / Reflection
16th Sunday, Year B
July 19, 2009

We live in a complex world … a world of contrasts, filled with contested and contesting values with each one vying for everyone’s attention. Jeremiah’s world was a contrasting one made up of shepherds who led righteously, and shepherds who not only misled, but scattered the flock. St. Paul candidly refers to a “dividing wall of enmity,” and to the reality that at some point in our lives, we “were far off” from God, but that thankfully, we “have become near by the blood of Christ,” he, who “is our peace,” and “through [whom] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” The Gospel of Mark alludes to a busy band of twelve, who, along with their Master, “had no opportunity even to eat,” caught up by the motley demands of people who “were coming and going in great numbers.” No less than Christ, “was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

There is more than just “pity” from Christ, the Good Shepherd for us all who live and move in this world of stark contrasts.

First of all, he shows himself as the fulfillment of the promise given through Jeremiah the prophet: “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock … and bring them back to their meadow … I will appoint shepherds for them so that they need no longer fear and tremble…” Secondly, as our peace, he “broke down the dividing wall of enmity … thus establishing peace …he came and preached peace to [those] who were far off and peace to those who were near …” Thirdly, he invites us today and every busy day to “come away by [ourselves] to a deserted place and rest a while.”

Pity alone is not what the Lord gives us today and everyday of our busy lives. Like a true shepherd he shows us the way and guides us. “So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place,” to have some time for rest and reflection, and presumably, for prayer. Jesus’ thoughtfulness, attentiveness, and concern for his apostles’ welfare shine out remarkably clear in this short vignette reported by Mark. Such personal solicitude for the good of his followers is eloquent sign, among others, of Jesus’ intention to live in concrete what he has declared in word: “I am the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (Jn 10:11)

Sunday, like today, is the Good Shepherd’s offering for us to have some quiet, rest, reflection and prayer. Sunday is as much the “day of the Lord,” (Dies Domini), as the “day of and for man,” (Dies hominis). Sunday is also the day for God’s assembly, the Church (Dies Ecclesiae), where together God’s people, like the Jews in Christ’s times did, saw the Lord as he “began to teach them many things.” (Mk 6:34)

Today, the Liturgy invites us to re-appropriate Sunday for what it really was meant to be: a day for the Lord, as much as a day for ourselves. Rather than seeing Sunday as a day for self-absorption and self-preoccupation, it is to be seen as a day for legitimate rest and solitude, not for one’s selfish motives, but eventually to get closer to God and Christ through prayer and reflection, so that through intimate communion with the Lord, we may rise victorious amidst the contrasting and conflicting complexities of life in this globalized, consumerist, mass media-dominated world. Such intimacy with God, in and through this Eucharistic celebration, ought then to make us capable of proclaiming sincerely and more effectively: ‘The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
July 12, 2009

The readings of today revolve around the basic idea of mission. Amos, although, by his own admission, not originally belonging to “a company of prophets,” but a “shepherd and a dresser of sycamores,” was chosen by God, taken “from following the flock,” and told to “go, and prophesy to [the] people [of] Israel.” St. Paul, for his part, thanks and glorifies God, “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world.” In the Gospel, we hear Jesus sending out his disciples two by two who “went off and preached repentance.”

“In him we were also chosen,” St. Paul goes on to say. We are called. We are sent. Like the original twelve around Jesus. We are chosen and called to proclaim and prophesy in God’s behalf. The choosing, the calling and the sending, however, were not without challenges, difficulties and problems!

Amos, for one, drew the ire of the priest Amaziah. The envious and insecure Amaziah told Amos to go right back to where he came from – Judah -- and limit his prophesying there. Not satisfied with that form of spiteful verbal abuse, Amaziah even made use of his connections and denounced him before King Jeroboam II, warning the king that Amos had conspired against him. (cf. Amos 7:10-11) The twelve, sent two by two, were told by Jesus to go and preach, taking with them only the barest minimum, and forewarned them of the possibility of being rejected by the very people they would be ministering to.

Modern-day prophets who are no less chosen, called and sent by God fare no better than those referred to in today’s readings. Let us look at a few concrete examples … The Holy Father’s perceived “hard” teachings on matters of morals and discipline meet with not just a little opposition from many quarters in and out of the Church. The Mass Media, by and large, show a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle opposition, by watering down the teachings, at times reducing them to absurdity, by resorting to subtle innuendoes and to half-truths, giving unwary readers a lopsided – if, biased – version of the teachings. Legislators and people in the executive branches of government, ever cautious and conscious of the rise or fall of their popularity, simply ignore what is described by popular mass media as “outdated, conservative and hopelessly anachronistic, mediavalist” teachings from a Church further described as meddlesome and as against freedom, progress and development. Like Amos, modern-day prophets sent by God are told to preach elsewhere, but should have nothing to do with whatever people do in the privacy of their bedrooms and homes! Pastors, who happen not to fit the frames of “ideal pastors” in the minds of moneyed and powerful blocks in and out of the parish pastoral councils, are either “silenced” or “co-opted” by people in high places into executing their own plans and expectations. How many pastors have been unceremoniously removed from office on account of some of these so-called petitions from “power-brokers” from within our communities? How often have our pastors, including bishops, been crucified on account of their standing steadfast with the official teachings of the Church as articulated by the Holy Father? Today is a good opportunity for us to reflect on acceptance of the God-sent prophets in our midst. The choosing, the calling, and the sending – as we have seen – belong to God and God alone. Our response of acceptance? “I will hear what God proclaims” … Our prayer? “Lord, let us see your kindness and grant us your salvation!”

Thursday, July 2, 2009


14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
July 5, 2009

There is a strong feel of futility running like a thread in the fabric of today’s readings. Seemingly, that is… Ezekiel being forewarned about the rebellious Israelites to whom he is being sent to prophesy… described as “hard of face and obstinate of heart” … St. Paul finding himself face to face with real suffering… “a thorn in the flesh,” about which he beseeched the Lord “three times,” to no avail … Jesus being confronted by his fellow townmates with doubting and belittling questions, all pointing toward rejection and unbelief, from the very people who should have been the first to support him!

Futility! This seems to characterize the efforts of so many well-meaning people in our society! Despite heroic efforts at fostering the common good, despite the energies expended at making government really deliver the goods to the people that need them most, despite the repeated teachings of the Church on important matters of faith and morals, all we seem to see is the progressive degradation of societal norms, structures and values. The traffic situation hardly improves in our cities and congested towns where creative traffic schemes, no matter how brilliant, are no match for ill-educated and selfish drivers who insist on behaving like as if traffic rules were meant for others, but not for themselves. Values taught in schools and proclaimed in pulpits do not stand a chance in the classroom of daily life where just about the only real and substantial education that the young receive comes from the TV and the internet. The dreams for a “strong republic” do not even see the light of day, nipped in the bud, as it were, by a bureaucracy that has taken pride of place as the 11th most corrupt one in the whole world. Prophets who risk rejection, continue to fight for the rights of the unborn, waging a seemingly lost battle for what is morally upright, whose light is now fast fading compared to the luster and glitter of a consumerist, individualistic, hedonistic and throw-away culture of personal convenience and personal gain.

The list could go on. Shakespeare’s words sound true enough for us: “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” We see weakness and helplessness before the might of a culture of sin and death, that masquerades under the guise of self-fulfillment, self-actualization and enlightened social development. Our hearts thus find sympathetic resonance in the psalmist’s prayer that we now make our very own: “Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.” (Responsorial Psalm)

“Sated with the contempt of the proud and the mockery of the arrogant,” we plead pity from the Lord. The Lord hears our prayer. Today, we see ourselves blessed to be counted among the ranks of Ezekiel who remained unfazed by the obduracy and hard-heartedness of the people he was sent to. We consider ourselves favored by the Lord who found us worthy enough to be in league with St. Paul who knew first hand what it meant to be weak, to be insulted, persecuted and to be subjected to all forms of hardships and constraints. Most of all, we see ourselves privileged to follow the footsteps of Christ himself, who found no honor and faith from among the people of his native place. We are fortunate to be afforded the singular opportunity to respond in faith to him “for whose sake [we] are content with weaknesses… for when [we are] weak, then [we are] strong.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


The focus of today’s solemnity is life. All three readings speak of blood poured in sacrifice – blood which for the Jews stood for the principle of life itself, blood which also stood as symbol of the covenant between God and His people, purifying blood that symbolized cleansing from iniquities that makes one worthy “to worship the living God.” In the Gospel account, the same symbolism comes out strong: “This is the blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” (Mk 14:24)

Mark’s gospel tells us that after the passover meal, “they went out to the mount of olives.” It was there that later in the night, the Lord “sweated blood” (Lk 22:44) in the moment of extreme agony, at a moment when he was fully aware of what his self-offering would cost him – no less than his own life.

This is the life that we celebrate and extol in today’s solemn feast.

Undeniably, it has become difficult, if not close to impossible, nowadays to fully celebrate the feast in the traditional manner. It has become difficult, in fact inadvisable now, to make splendid processions and construct huge altars from which to expose the Blessed Sacrament and then to bless devotees with, after rituals of veneration right in the main thorougfares. Globalization, abetted by a strong current of secularism and pluralism even in matters of faith, have conspired in the recent decades to make such triumphalistic and ritualistic manifestations of devotion look a little too medieval in approach and style. In this fast-paced and result-oriented society, the traditional “pious stare” accorded the mystery of the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament through the practice of the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, has taken a back seat to that which rightfully ought to be given more importance – the lively, active and “live” event of salvation that takes place in the celebration of the Eucharist.

This celebration of the Eucharist, therefore, taking place in “real time,” here and now, ought to be given due priority and attention by us who have chosen to take part in it. True to its primary symbolism of LIFE, the Eucharist taking place now, the making-present once again of the sacrifice of Christ’s outpouring of blood and the sharing of his body to us all, is more important than merely exposing the Blessed Sacrament for adoration of the faithful.

All this is to say something very important. What counts as most important is the full, conscious, lively and active participation in the unfolding sacrifice that is now being celebrated by God’s people at the MENSA VERBI (the table of the Word) and the MENSA EUCHARISTIAE (the table of the Eucharist). Without in any way denigrating and downgrading the laudable practice of the adoration given to the Blessed Sacrament, the Church, through today’s solemnity, merely teaches us that the celebration itself of the Eucharist, is a unique and special presence of Jesus in his body, the Church now gathered as one family in worship. His blood now unites us all into one body despite our differences. His blood now purifies this same body and nourishes each and every single member. And since the outpouring of blood leads to death, Jesus’ death now becomes our passport to the celebration of life and unity that is what this Eucharistic celebration is all about – a celebration of Christ’s body and blood!

Monday, June 1, 2009


Oneness…fullness…completeness…totality…wholeness…The Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity today seems to remind us of all the foregoing concepts – and more! The readings today were all from books written well before the term “Trinity” was introduced in theological discourse. But Scripture that has come down to us through the centuries reflects the “lived theology” of the community of believers. Obviously, the reality of the Trinity preceded the terminology. The faith in the Trinity antedated the invention of a term (or a symbol) to stand for the truth held in faith in people’s minds and hearts, long before the word was uttered in their mouths.

All God has taught… all God has uttered… and all God has commanded! This represents the body of truths celebrated by the early Church in the liturgy. An ancient dictum says it all: Lex orandi, lex credendi. As the Church prays, so does the Church believe. What the Church holds in faith is what the Liturgy celebrates and proclaims.

Very early on, faith in the Triune God has been part of the whole structure, content and practice of prayer and worship of the incipient Church. Thus could St. Paul confidently teach: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…heirs with Christ.” (Rm 8:14-17)

The word “Trinity” is not found anywhere in Scripture. But the truth about this essential nature of the God who revealed Himself ever so gradually through history and, most especially in Christ, His Son is an incontrovertible fact that is clear in the same Scripture. The “lived theology” of Paul, the evangelists and the early Christians is a clear manifestation of the fullness, completeness and wholeness of their faith in the “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and the one God and Father of all.” (Eph 4:5) “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you.” (2Cor 13:13) No less than Jesus himself, after convoking his disciples for the last time, reveals yet another facet in the nature of God again on a mountain, like he did during the Transfiguration, like he did when he started proclaiming the Kingdom. It was on the mountain that he gave them final instructions: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:18)

Today, the Liturgical celebration forms part of a series of Solemnities called solemnities of the Lord in which we are invited to reflect on some aspects of our “one faith” in the “one God and Father of all.” That faith, we would do well to remind ourselves today, is one, whole, and entire, with nothing added, and nothing subtracted from what has been revealed to us in Christ. Today, we claim and proclaim, by way of a fitting celebration of worship, our faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, as part of all God has taught and commanded… nothing more, nothing less, nothing else! “Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; to God who is, who was, and who is to come.” (cf Rev. 1:8)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Pentecost Sunday
May 31, 2009

Pentecost Sunday liturgy revolves around the idea of gift. We are told about an entire house “being filled with a driving wind,” “toungues of fire” “parting and resting on each one,” and each one “being filled with the Holy Spirit.” St. Paul speaks of “different kinds of spiritual gifts,” and some “manifestation of the Spirit given for some benefit.” The alternative second reading says more. It enumerates the “fruits of the Spirit,” namely: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Gospel, for its part, confronts us with a double gift from the Risen Christ – two gifts that are intimately linked to each other: peace from the Lord, and the Spirit who is to be behind a bigger gift - the power to forgive sins.

Gifts galore, these all are! Gifts to acknowledge, cherish and nurture by a people deemed worthy enough to be gifted by this world’s tremendous lover! This, at least partly, is what Pentecost is all about – a day of giftedness, a day of filled-ness, a time and season “to rejoice at seeing the [Risen] Lord” in our midst once again.

The world could use a little more genuine and honest-to-goodness appreciation for the gifts that it receives on a continual, daily basis. This consumerist world that is now awash in material goods, now so plentiful that most people do not even know how to appreciate them, can tend to be biased in favor of what is quantifiable, palpable, usable – everything that caters to our innate desire to possess and fulfill our longing for the more! Many of us, ever hungry for the greater, the better, the ultimate in everything, may be compared to that little boy, who after opening all the beautifully wrapped gifts given to him on his birthday, could only mutter to the utter disappointment of his parents and relatives: “Is this all I’m getting?”

That boy who stands for most of us could not fully appreciate what he got. Like him, we cannot appreciate what we are getting for one simple reason: we remain and get bogged down only on the level of the gifts received. We fail to transcend the gifts and lose sight of an important truth – the truth of our giftedness. Merely counting gifts can make one satiated, but not satisfied. Merely having gifts can make one feel filled for a while, but never fulfilled. The former has to do with having more; the latter has to do with being more. This comes from the deep realization that one is gifted, enriched, blessed, and loved by history’s greatest lover of all. This means being “filled with grace,” because one is filled, not just with “presents”from the Lord, but with His “presence” in our lives.

But there is still a third level of transcendence that Pentecost reminds us of. We have not only received gifts from above. We are not merely gifted beings who are loved by God with a love of predilection that has no parallel on earth. We are meant also to be “given” like Jesus and the Spirit were. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” After breathing on them, the Risen Lord said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” The Spirit’s gift of truth, his guidance to all the truth given to the Church, is meant to be, in turn, a gift to others, a mission, even as Christ and the Spirit are in a “joint mission” from the Father. As we prayed at the start of this Mass, “let the Spirit you sent…continue to work in the world through the hearts of all who believe.” For we all have received gifts. We are gifted. And we are meant to be given in mission to the world.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Liturgical Reflection on Passion Sunday / Catholic Sunday Worship Guide

Palm Sunday opens the unfolding drama of the mystery of salvation that we Filipinos seem very much at home in. In today’s telenovela-crazed culture, we find sympathetic resonance in our hearts as we accompany the Lord in his journey of triumph on entering Jerusalem, only to move towards seeming defeat at Calvary. Ever attracted by the plight of the proverbial underdog, we see pathos, we feel pity, and we feel one with the suffering Christ even as we join the crowds in initially singing hosannas to the King of Kings!

Two seemingly conflicting images pierce our consciousness in today’s colorful but sedate liturgy: the triumphant entry of Jesus to Jerusalem, evoking Christ’s triumph as King, on the one hand, and the circumstances, conditions and the means Christ had to pass through to gain that eventual definitive victory – the Passion!

Palm Sunday is all about this seeming contradiction. Palm Sunday is all about apparent utter failure and defeat. It is all about a God condescending totally towards weak, sinful and frail humanity, becoming one with us in all things, but sin, even joining us for a while in savoring the triumph that awaits us all – the already and the not yet of our salvation-participation in the victory of God who will have the final word in the end. Palm Sunday is about us people who, one moment can sing hosannas, and at another, cry out lustily “crucify him!” Palm Sunday is about us sinful humanity, struggling between acceptance of a God who gives life, and the refusal of a God who indeed gives it while killing, while himself passing through the path of passion and death!

We do not easily understand it all! Come to think about it, if it were a mere telenovela, we would rally behind a pitiful figure of one subjected as Isaiah reports to us, to all sorts of ignominies, a suffering servant, alone and silent as we will see and hear in Mark’s account of the Passion, “who humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (Phil 2:8).

The response of Jesus to the shouts of triumphant hosannas was silence. It was the silence of a humble man who came, not astride a horse like mighty and powerful men would do, but on a lowly colt, whose owner was not even significant enough to be named for posterity. The response of Jesus to the untold suffering in his Passion was silence too. Mark reports that Jesus spoke only three times after his arrest. In the face of so many questions, Mark tells us: “But he was silent and answered nothing” (Mk 14:61). Before the High Priest, he declared himself the Messiah and the Son of Man. Before Pilate, he says he is King of the Jews. And on the cross, all he cried out was the lament of the suffering servant: Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani!

This is the impressive and eloquent silence of one who speaks, who represents, and who IS truth! This is the eloquence of one who would go through the most impressive silence and at the same time the most powerful statement from the God of the living and the dead – the silence of the tomb and the deafening roar of victory in the Resurrection! In this noise-filled world, one does well today to remember that genuine eloquence comes not from empty words, but from the power of liberating truth.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Lenten Reflection / Sunday Worship Guide

I would like to think that today’s liturgy may be understood as a call to reflect on three basic themes: renewal, authenticity, and interiority. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of the new covenant that will be forged between Yahweh and the house of Israel.That new covenant, we are told, is connected with Yahweh’s overriding mercy and forgiveness. The New Law, we are told further, is to be written not in stone, but is meant to be placed within us and written upon[our] hearts (Jer 31:33).

The letter to the Hebrews, along with the second part of John’s gospel passage, both allude unmistakably to the agony of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemani, and his subsequent suffering “in the flesh,” a very real and authentic journey of suffering and death that is at the root of the eternal salvation that awaits all believers.

The same Gospel passage from John gives us a glimpse of the interior struggle experienced by Jesus as he agonized in the garden, and the subsequent triumph of obedience to the Father’s will that ensued from that intense interior communing with the Father, when “he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death” (Heb 5:7).

We are all partakers now of this new covenant. We are sons and daughters of this renewal that has become a reality in the coming of Christ in our lives. But what was prophesied of old still has to unfold and become a reality in our individual and communal lives. We are all called to constant renewal, to constant purification, to continuing conversion. But for renewal to take place, there has to be a counterpart from our side of the covenant. We need to make the Law our own. We need to allow it to be written in our hearts. This is a call to authenticity and interiority. This is a call to act like Christ who “son though he was, learned obedience from what he suffered” (Heb 5:8). This is a call to be like Christ in his total acceptance of and resignation to his Father’s will: “But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (Jn 12:27).

How many times have we been told about our tendency as Filipinos to settle for mere externals, our penchant for form and image rather than substance? How many times have we been reminded about our propensity to be good debaters and glib talkers, but after all the sound and fury of our rhetoric, there is little in terms of action that we can show? The Philippines have produced among the best laws all over the world in terms of ecology and other relevant issues, but problems on those issues continue to plague us. Surely, there is something disturbing at the dawning realization we are having, that Asia’s only Christian nation, also happens to be among the most corrupt and graft-ridden. The last two national youth surveys confirm each other in this disturbing trend: the famed religiosity of the Filipino as we know it is fast disappearing. And in its place, we see a lot of media-mediated values like consumerism, hedonism and relativism, as shown for example by the tenuous appreciation for, if not downright refusal from an increasing number of Filipinos of the Church’s official moral teachings.Seventeen years after the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, we can only beat our breast at the painful realization that evangelization has failed miserably in many senses! All this just shows that renewal, authenticity and interiority are things we cannot take lightly in our journey of faith as Christians and Catholics.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Thoughts on Lent / Sunday Worship Guide

There is more than enough reason why this 4th Sunday of Lent is called Laetare Sunday, as can be gleaned from the tone of the entrance antiphon: “Rejoice Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her…” Midway through our Lenten journey toward Easter, the liturgy offers us some kind of a reality check. The first reading reminds us how we, very much like the Israelites of old, have “added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple…” The same reading, however, shows God’s compassion on his people in concrete. He inspired Cyrus to issue an edict which released the Israelite people from exile and bondage in Babylon. St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians corroborates this saving mercy of “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life in Christ – by grace [we] have been saved” (Eph 2:4). The Gospel provides the clincher to this overwhelming source of rejoicing: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:15).

There, too, is more than enough personal reason why we ought to rejoice. We have it all deep in the inner recesses of our remote and recent memories. We all have sinned. We all have veered away from the paths set by the Lord for us. “All men have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). The memory of the sins we have committed, and still perhaps continue to commit is not easy to shoo away and difficult to deny, that, together with the psalmist, we declare today, “Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!”

Gratitude, they say, is the remembrance of the heart. What else should the human heart remember but that which the heart knows best about? The heart best remembers mercy, compassion, and love – the very same characteristics of a saving God who showed “the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7).

It is this grateful remembrance that lifts our spirits up today. It is this great love that exalts us, that buoys us up, that gives us fresh hopes despite the repetitiveness of our human folly.

Today’s gospel, in allusion to the Old Testament, speaks about the Son of Man being lifted up for everyone to behold and thus find salvation. This refers to Jesus, lifted high on the wood of the cross, “so everyone who believes in him might have eternal life” (Jn 3:15). He was lifted high on account of love.

As we journey on through Lent, we are exhorted once more to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (Col 3:2). Lifted high on account of love ourselves, we set our sights on what is above, and not on what is below. We thus have more than just an equivalent of what the ancient Romans got their strength from: ROBUR AB ASTRIS! (Strength from the stars!). Lifted high for love of us sinners, Christ and his cross count, not only for our strength, but also, - and more importantly - for our salvation, our hope, and our victory!

Monday, March 9, 2009


This third Sunday of Lent offers us a glimpse about who God is for us. The first reading shows us a God uttering important words as guideposts for our conduct and behavior. It is unfortunate that the English rendition of Decalogue (ten words) came down to us as ten commandments. For freedom-loving people of today, immersed in a world of a multiplicity of choices on all fronts, the word commandment sounds too negative, too limiting, too constricting.

Such a narrow understanding of the broader biblical context of God’s self-revelation through Moses may not sit well with many of us. We all love autonomy. We do not want to be hemmed in. We abhor being controlled like puppets on a string. It does not sit well too with the real nature of God who shows himself to Moses and the chosen people as liberator, as deliverer who “brought [them] out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery” (Ex 20:1). This God who liberates is also a God who gives the needed tools to secure that freedom, the very means by which men and women could grow even more in freedom. These are the “ten important words” of today’s liturgy, the Decalogue.

That broader understanding of God as liberator rather than legislator is aptly expressed in our response to the first reading: “Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.” Psalm 19 extols the beauty of the law of the Lord. “The precepts of the Lord are right rejoicing the heart; the command of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eye.”

We have a rare chance today to disabuse the notion of the law as constricting and prohibitive. At the same time, we see here a subtle invitation for us to reflect more on the role of these ten words in our personal lives. We all can get a clue from Thomas Merton who wrote: “The important question in life is not ‘Am I happy?’ but ‘Am I free?’” Perhaps doing away with the ten words would make us think we would be happy because we are not shackled by any rules. But the absence of such guideposts would not make for freedom. Happiness alone does not make us good people. It does only make us “feel good.” But to be really good and do good, one needs freedom. Such freedom is not freedom from bonds, but freedom for. And this genuine freedom makes us capable of letting all the goodness out of our personhood; it makes us capable of love, the greatest act of freedom. Michel Quoist, a writer who was famous back in my college days, wrote: “Freedom doesn’t mean being free for nothing. It means being free to love.”

This then leads us to look at what constricts freedom in the long run. It is, to use a 64 dollar word, anomie, the state of lawlessness. Think about driving down a highway on a dark night and there are no white guide lines on your left and on your right. Think about a little town of several thousand people where there are no rules and restrictions to guide people’s conduct and behavior. Think about every single one doing what he or she pleases, at any given time. Think about unbridled behavior from everyone. Think about sin and sinful acts galore! What do you see? Bondage, slavery, disorder, chaos. Such was the state the Israelites were in over at Egypt. Then God decided to liberate them through the leadership of Moses. Keeping us all in freedom…making us truly and fully liberated…this is what those ten words are all about!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


A Lenten Reflection

The 2nd Sunday of Lent puts us in difficult treading ground. The journey towards Easter glory does not seem to be all rosy and bright after all! There goes the promise to Abraham! He who was called to be a father to a multitude of nations is now called to do a very difficult sacrificial offering. “Take your son, Isaac, your only one, whom you love…”

Sometimes in life, we may feel like facing a blank wall. Trials come our way and, for all intents and purposes, it feels like the end of the road for us. Darkness sets in… appalling darkness… and the light of faith that we held onto and stood steadfast in for some time may become no more than a flicker. This seems to be the backdrop created by the story recounted in the first reading.

Just a little before Christmas some six years ago, the tragic story of a mother who spent several years abroad and left her only son to secure a brighter future for him, decided to come home for good. She did. And she came excitedly home only to see her only son run over by a speeding car! This story touches us to very core of our being. We share not only the hapless mother’s grief, but we find ourselves also sharing in what most likely filled her heart…questions, a lot of questions…with no easy answers!

Our journey of faith is very much like our journey down the road toward Easter. There are bumps along the way. There are unexpected twists and turns, and there may not be easy answers all the time, even as there is no explanation as to why that tragedy had to happen to such a good, very provident youngish mother and her beloved only son. Why did he have to meet such an untimely death, just when she had decided to stay home for good?

Yes, there may not be easy explanations and answers, but our faith does give signposts along the way! Today’s liturgy counts among them. In the height of a perceived temporary situation of darkness for Abraham, God reveals Himself as one who considers “the death of his faithful ones” “precious in the eyes of the Lord” (Ps 116:10). Abraham’s faithfulness to God despite the difficult trial he faced proved to be his most shining and brilliant moment. Aptly does the responsory express such conviction of faith when we proclaim with the psalmist: “I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.” But the most brilliant signpost is that of God’s own beloved Son. Jesus led his disciples “up a high mountain apart by themselves” (Mk 9:2) where he was transfigured.

Take heart, fellow believer! In the dark and difficult journey down faith road, God Himself shines out for us in ways we may not fully fathom all the time. In the road of faith, no longer is it a matter of knowing why but just a matter of living it despite the lack of easy answers. St. Paul clinches it for us today: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not give us everything else along with him?” (Rom 8:31b) Light and darkness down the road of faith, they are nothing else but two sides of the same coin. For the man or woman of faith, they both lead to Easter glory!

Thursday, February 26, 2009


The First Sunday of Lent presents us with a promise, a sign of that promise, and their fulfillment. Speaking to Noah about a new covenant, Yahweh promises no more destruction by flood. A sign of this covenant, Yahweh adds, is the rainbow, and the sign simply put, states: water shall no longer be a sign of destruction. Peter’s letter in the second reading takes up what the waters point to positively. Instead of destruction as in the flood, the waters shall connote salvation. The Gospel presents fulfillment, very literally. Jesus himself declares openly: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

A common thread unites all three readings today – the thread of conflict, hostility and destruction, symbolized apparently by the destructive floods, and the wild beasts with whom Jesus was for forty days and nights in the hostile desert. Despite the hostility and the conflict and the destruction, Yahweh promised the binding symbol of the bow that covered the firmament. It shall be seen as a symbol of the covenant between God and humanity and the world of nature.

We live in a hostile world. Marred by sin and the ever present tendency to sin, the world is witness to so much conflict, destructiveness, and all sorts of hostility. There is conflict in our political lives. There is a lot of hostility and potential escalation of conflict between and among civilizations all over the world.

Today’s Gospel shows us that Jesus was no stranger to conflict and hostility. Mark the evangelist tells us that “he was among wild beasts,” and that he was “tempted by Satan” all through those forty days of fasting, prayer and repentance. In the face of conflict, in the midst of wild beasts, he showed in his person and behavior the faithfulness of God. Steadfast in his resolve, Jesus did not just act like a rainbow that stood for the covenant between God and humanity and nature. He fulfilled in his person the demands of the new covenant promised to Noah.

We Christians are called to the same steadfastness and resoluteness. And the season of Lent is a perfect opportunity for us to become the bow that binds all the conflicting elements surrounding our personhood into oneness. By our own fasting, penance and prayerfulness, in imitation of Jesus meek and humble of heart, we pacify not only the external wild beasts that roam around us, but also – and, more importantly - the interior wild beasts in our hearts that stand at the root of our factionalism, divisiveness and sinfulness.

There is a whole lot of fragmentation and selfishness in our society today. There is too much of potentially explosive sources of conflict between ethnic groups, between nations and between whole civilizations. Mere symbolic, token gestures to patch up said conflicts will not do. We need the discipline of Lent in order to become binding rather than dissipating factors in our society. We all need to resort to that which Lent has for so long been asking all believers to intensify: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009



Our first reflection might have sounded like a lot of bad news. I ally myself with Peter Berger, who in his book “Invitation to Sociology” (1963) speaks of sociological principles and concepts as some kind of “bad news” to the uninitiated. But then awareness of what’s really going on is liberating. It gives us a perspective in which to discern, to understand things a little more, to see the bigger picture in which are framed deeper issues that are not obvious from the superficial plane. In preaching, as you all know, telling people the good news oftentimes necessitates our giving them first the bad news. It is called contextualizing. In biblical hermeneutics, we were told to look at the sitz im leben, the situation in life, for us to be able to make heads or tails of some obscure passage at hand.

It is enlightening to give a close look at where we are. But salvation, the concept that we started out with in the first talk, the grand narrative that is the product we are pushing as priests, preachers, and teachers, does not have to do with where we are. On the contrary, it has to do with where we are called, or more precisely, what we are all created for, invited to, and called to by God.

PCP-II beautifully puts it in the first opening paragraph. The terminus a quo, and the terminus ad quem that we work for is the call for us to turn “crisis” into “kairos.” It is a call to transform a culture of death into a culture of life. It is a call to revival, to a resurrection, a call from wallowing in shallow informative mode towards morphing into a deeper and committed performative mode.

About a year ago, I was having lunch with a former middle executive working for a big mass media broadcast outfit. The conversation turned to job backgrounds and experience and when I asked him where he was formerly connected with, he said: “I was with this media outfit, but I resigned.” I asked him why, and he said: “You probably won’t understand the reason why I did so.” I said, “try me … for all you know I might agree with you.” And he then told me resigned because he could no longer take it. That media outfit was, he said, the single biggest factor that contributed to the progressive dehumanization of the Filipino people. I told him, I could not agree with him more. That was what I had been saying since 1986, when I was principal in a big school right after the peaceful People Power revolution of 1986.

I speak about a main feature in Robinson’s “landscape of our lives” filled with the “contours of hopelessness” – the catalyzing force of the “media moment” that drives, hastens, and amplifies what time, space, and culture do to influence the postmodern consciousness. It is no secret that our collective psyche is “scripted in significant ways by the media,” as Robinson says (p. 103). With the fall of a dictatorship in 1986, came a rise in a very lively, excessively democratized world of mass media, which has since then, been busy “reorienting our lives” in ways we do not even notice. Reality TV, which really is a parody of reality, has invaded our private inner sanctums, and the world of entertainment has redefined values and put the “get-rich-quick-by-any-means-possible” mentality to the fore like never before, as shown by how hordes risk life and limb just to get a shot at instant stardom and instant cash by making a fool of themselves on primetime or lunchtime TV. The bottom line, for Robinson, is simply this, and I quote:

“The media moment with its emphasis on the brutality of life on earth and its sound-bite projections continues to shape the rational, thinking person in a manner that displaces the reality of God and the nature of hope. The media moment distorts our view of the created world, assigning values that often do not accord with the life of faith in God, in Christ in the Holy Spirit and offering such values as ‘reality’” (p. 106).

I think that the opening paragraph of PCP-II puts us right at the heart of what it means to offer hope to a world filled with these contours of hopelessness, and that is engaging in a progressive journey, and not just working for a finished product that is essentially what the postmodern world offers everyday. The world offers palliatives. For headaches, all one needs to do is to pop pills and presto, the headache is gone! For grief, all one needs to do is to create fun, to produce noise, to celebrate so as to quell the pain of loss or whatever kind of loss there is in our lives. The world offers a destination. Our Christian faith offers a journey, and in this journey, we are surrounded by fellow pilgrims, fellow travelers, spoken of by the letter to the Hebrews as “a cloud of witnesses.”

Josef Pieper (1963, pp. 89ss), following St. Thomas, offers an insightful glimpse into the hope that should be in us, despite the contours of hopelessness around us, in terms of two opposing concepts: viator as opposed to comprehensor. The man of hope, despite the erosion of faith, continues to be, and to embrace his status viatoris, his state of life as traveler. His stance is the exact antithesis of status comprehensoris, which is that of one who already has grasped what he is looking for. One who has in hand something he so pines for is already filled, already done. He is not a man in search. He is a man in possession. He doesn’t see himself anymore as one in process, but as one who possesses. And one who possesses does not anymore work for something. He is in a state of fullness and a full glass, as everybody knows, cannot contain more, cannot receive more.

I would like to speak from experience. I am nature lover. I am most happy when I am on a mountain trail, admiring the foliage, the gulleys and valleys, the heights, the nippy cold wind that slaps me gently in the face, the bitter cold that petrifies my joints at night, and the tingling icicles on grass that one treads on at early dawn. But whilst there is an indescribable sensation associated with being atop Mt. Pulag, for instance, there is nothing quite compared to the feeling of working one’s way toward the summit. The summit is there to behold at many spots along the way. One sees it constantly, but one constantly pines to reach it, to conquer the summit. The most exciting segment of any climb is the so-called “final assault” towards the peak. One is in a status viatoris … a state of moving on, of getting there, of attaining something that just days or hours before seemed like an impossible feat.

I remember climbing with a small group from Ayala Mountaineering Club back in 1990. I was out of shape then, having come from so many rapid changes in my life and from a short bout with fever and other health problems. I could not say no to the invitation. I joined because they expected me to say Mass atop Mt. Ugu, where three years earlier, an airplane had crashed against the mountain wall, as it approached to land in thick fog at Loakan airport. I was in utter misery as I climbed. Out of shape, out of the loop for some time before that, I felt like a burden to the group. And to top it all, I had butterflies in my stomach that necessitated my getting off the beaten track time and again, to relieve myself in the bushes. I probably was dehydrated. But the feeling of moving on, of forging ahead, of following the trail blazed by my companions on the way, was encouraging in itself. I was carried by the wings of hope, borne by the winds of longing for the heights, for completion, for fulfillment. I made it, but the best I knew was not in being up there looking with utter awe at the native edelweiss-looking flowers that dotted the exact point of impact where the plane all but disintegrated, the front part, instantly getting pulverized to oblivion. The best was in the struggle, the gradual step-by-step trek toward a point filled with promise and fulfillment. It was hope at its best. Not sure whether I could sustain it due to my slightly debilitated condition, I held on to something I did not know was certain.

The very interest in trekking was born out of an experience of darkness. At some point in my earlier life as a priest, I was bored and felt life was nothing but a routine. I did pretty much the same day in and day out. At that point, I found solace in early morning brisk walks in the darkness, while the rest of the world slept. As I walked, I sorted out things. As I walked, I conversed, bargained, and pleaded with God. As I walked, I realized that I came out with insights I usually didn’t get when I was in the office, buried in concerns that crowded out my ability to think things through in the spirit of serenity and calm objectivity.

I learned then what the wisdom of St. Augustine already offered the Christian world for centuries: SOLVITUR AMBULANDO … things are solved while walking. Things are solved in process, while one is in a journey, not when one is at his destination. The destination is the fruition of a process, and everyone who has gone for an extensive trip or international travel knows that the best part is not in the arriving, but in the process of getting there. The fruition cannot be actualized if the process is not dealt with.

I think that this is an important lesson for us on hope. We priests and religious are an impatient lot. We are also very result oriented. We want instant fruits. When we teach, we expect students to master everything we say. When we lead, we members of the clergy expect absolute obedience and compliance. It might interest us to note, that, speaking as a therapist, the rule of thirds applies to us too – that at least about a third of us are narcissists – self-centered and spoiled brats who would brook no opposition and who cherish being in power and wielding control over others.

Many of us want the glorious destination minus the grueling journey. We want the result, but make short-cuts on the process. We preach hope, but we cannot afford to be waiting upon the Lord to act in His own good time. We admire Job, but no … thanks, but no thanks. We would rather be a Moses forging trails across the desert and hitting rocks and finding sweet flowing waters, and lifting up a staff and greater bodies of water divide and separate.

We are sorely tested now in these postmodern times. In this age of skepticism, people mistrust us, for we stand as personifications of authority. Gone are the days when people considered us as the resident expert on just about anything under the sun, including the sun itself, when people ran to the clergy for anything, for advice, for solace, for guidance, and for everything else.

Given the fact that the product we are pushing has to do with the grand narrative of salvation, a narrative that still unfolds up till now, we priests almost appear to the postmodern youth as irrelevant if not outdated.

We are, again to repeat the words of Ruddy, “tested in every way.”

But the worst of times, is just one side of the story. Even Dickens knew that. The other side of this ongoing narrative is that these are the best of times for us to really be counter cultural, to jut out even like a sore thumb amidst a sea filled with the contours of hopelessness, and become collectively an oasis in a desert of hopelessness, indifference, and resignation.

My economist friends are unanimous in saying that the economic meltdown is not all bad. I believe them. Back in 1983, when the killing of Ninoy Aquino plunged this country into the dark ages of massive poverty and the disappearance of the middle class, our resiliency as Filipinos came to the fore. The best of us shone, and, in the midst of decay, new life thrived. Lugawans and a variety of street food were invented by enterprising Filipinos. Unable to afford more expensive fare, the Filipino palate adapted to things like “isaw,” “proben,” “day-old chicks” and the like. Tokwa’t baboy became a national dish, and lechon manok became party fare de riguer, spearheaded by the enterprising Mang Andok, now a household name all over.

We took everything in stride. We hit the ground running, not stalling in the mire of hopelessness and despondency. And despite the dark ages brought about by wrong and misguided decisions of the people then in power, we survived the six hour daily brownouts, and we came out to party in 1998 when APEC leaders came to give us one brief shining moment under the sun of golden opportunity.

We in the religious orders and congregations are a little despondent in many ways. Not too many are banging at our doors asking to be admitted. And those who do, pardon me, mostly need to be lifted up from some dark depths so that the famous scholastic line that says “gratia supponit naturam” can take effect in many of our candidates. Many of those who come to us, lack the basic skills and the foundational self-knowledge in order to make free choices after a few years of search. The families that produce them are for the most part, dysfunctional, and a variety of issues need to be dealt with before they can make mature and valid choices in life.

We are, indeed, tested in every way. We live in the worst of times. We live in the best of times.

I, therefore, suggest, that taking our cue from no less than Benedict XVI, who most recently wrote about being “saved in hope” (spe salvi), foremost among our tasks, (our munus, as pastors, priests, and preachers, is to be living examples of how hope is lived in our own personal and communal lives.

Our theological training and basic catechism have both taught us that hope is a theological virtue. There is no way, according to Pieper, that a philosopher can adequately speak about hope from the mere philosophical viewpoint. There can never be anything like a philosophy of hope, for hope by its nature is something given, something offered us. It is a gift from no less than God. And this gift has no less than God for its object. At the risk of trivializing Augustine, we can very well say this of hope, as Augustine does for faith: sperare Deum, sperare in Deum, et sperare Deo. The object, end, and witness of hope is God Himself. God and only God. Isn’t this what Benedict XVI so passionately reminds us:

“Man’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God – God who has loved us and who continues to love us ‘to the end,’ until all ‘is accomplished’” (#27). “This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain” (# 31).

But all this is informative. Benedict XVI invites us to transcend this and move on to the level of the performative. But make no mistake about it. The performative trait does not mean activism, political or otherwise. In the “settings” for learning and practicing hope, the first in the list is what we all should be at home with: prayer, as a school of hope. He says: “When no one listens to me anymore, God still listens to me.” (#32) But neither does it mean withdrawing into a hard shell of indifference. He continues:

“To pray is not to step outside of history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well. In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God – what is worthy of God. We must learn that we cannot pray against others. We must learn that we cannot ask for the superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment – that meager, misplaced hope that leads us away from God. We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves” (#33).

But the real clincher to this performative hope is when the Pope speaks about action and suffering, action and passion. “Hope in a Christian sense,” he writes, “is always hope for others as well. It is an active hope, in which we struggle to prevent things moving towards the perverse end” (#34).

And the second aspect, suffering, is where our liturgy tomorrow comes in handy. “Like action,” the Pope says, “suffering is part of our human existence.” We all know that he does not speak about “neurotic pain” which is mostly in a sense, self-inflicted. He speaks of redemptive suffering. And when we suffer, not on account of self-inflicted wounds or man-made situations, even as we try to banish it from out midst, when we sort of “ride the dragons” and “roll with the punches,” as it were in faith, “it is, however, hope – not yet fulfillment; hope that gives us the courage to place ourselves on the side of good even in seemingly hopeless situations, aware that, as far as the external course of history is concerned, the power of sin will continue to be a terrible presence” (# 36).

This is the hope of one who is in a “status viatoris,” not one in “status comprehensoris.” This is the hope of people on pilgrimage, people on a journey. And St. Augustine’s sentence rings loud and clear for all of us: “solvitur ambulando.”

I end with a prayer from a favorite biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann. Using Psalm 54 as inspiration, he makes a prayer in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 WTC bombing. It is prayer worth our while to listen to and make our own. Even as we claim we hope, our very hope may be paralyzed by fear and our God is larger than fear.

We do not really know about running and hiding.
We do not have real sense, ourselves, of being under assault,
For we live privileged, safe lives.
Learning in a garden near paradise.
Nonetheless the fear and the prayer
Live close beneath the surface …
Enemies we cannot see,
Old threats lingering unresolved from childhood,
Wild stirrings in the night that we cannot control.
And then we line out our imperative petitions,
Frantic … at least anxious;
Fearful … at least bewildered;
Turning to you, only you, you … nowhere else.
In the midst of anxiety, confidence wells up,
In our present stress, old well-being echoes.
We speak and the world turns confident and grateful,
Not because we believe our own words,
But because of your presence,
Your powerful, bold, reliable presence
Looms large,
Larger than fear,
Larger than anxiety,
Large enough … and in our own small vulnerability,
We give thanks.


Benedict XVI (2007). Spe salvi: Encyclical Letter of His Holiness PP Benedict XVI.

Berger, P. L. (1963). Invitation to sociology: A humanistic perspective. New York: Random Books.

Brueggemann, W. (2003). Awed to heaven, rooted in earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

CBCP (1991). Acts and Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines. Manila: PCP-II Secretariat.

Dietrich, D. (Ed.) (2006). Priests for the 21st Century. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company.

Grassi, D. (2003). Still called by name: Why I love being a priest. Chicago: Loyola University Press.

Pieper, J. (1963). Faith, hope, love. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Radcliffe, T. (2005). What is the point of being a christian? New York: Burns and Oates.

Robinson, E.A.(2004). These three: The theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press.

Rosetti, S. (2005). The joy of priesthood. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press.

Ruddy, C. (2006). Tested in every way: The catholic priesthood in today’s church. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company.

Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday.