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.”