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!