Sunday, September 30, 2007

Blessed to bless

In the beginning, God made everything good, for everyone. God’s will is that all of creation may live in harmony, and that all women and men may live life to the full. But our history and present situation show how God’s will is contradicted. In the face of this, the Word of God continues to be a social critique, and a call to personal conversion.

The Prophet Amos (Amos 6:1a.4-7) rebuked the leaders of their time, who unjustly enriched themselves, and wantonly indulged in the pleasures of the world, leaving the people in poverty, and exposing them to plunderers. The rebuke of Amos is relevant to us, people of today, as it was then.

In the Letter (1Timothy 6:11-16), which becomes clearer when read it with the context (1Tim 6:7-10 and 1Tim 6, 17-19) St. Paul admonishes Timothy to trust not in wealth, but in God, only in God. Those who trust in riches are bound to ruin. The admonition is not only for Timothy, but for us as well.

Jesus in today’s Gospel (Luke 16:19-31) reproached the Pharisees for their love of money, and their wanton disregard of the suffering people. The Pharisees claimed as their birthright, privileges now and in the world to come. The Pharisees desired wealth for pleasure, ignoring the needs of other people. They were content in legalistic practices, without lifting a finger to unburden the poor. They were reveled in comfort, and considered the poor, and the unjust practices perpetuating poverty as normal, and so they did nothing to condemn them, much less, do something to curb the system and alleviate their condition.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a vivid portrayal of this wanton disregard, and the ultimate reversal of fortunes – not as a threat but as a reminder, and yes, a warning. The rich man, traditionally called Dives (Latin for “rich”) lived in affluence – comfortable dwellings, expensive clothing and daily feasting, surrounded by rich acquaintances and servants, while Lazarus (Latinized form of Eleazar, meaning “God is my help.”), the poor man – stayed at his gate, most likely almost naked, perpetually hungry, the dogs that licked his sores as his only company. But when both die, Dives plunges into hell, and Lazarus is brought up by angels to the abode of Abraham.

Dives was condemned not because he was rich. Lazarus was not rewarded because he was poor. Affluence is not a sin; poverty is not a blessing. Dives was condemned not for something he did, but for what he did not do. Dives was condemned because he did not help Lazarus when he was in the best position to do so. Instead, his love for wealth and his revelry closed his mind and heart to Lazarus. Lazarus was just at the gate of his house, but he did not even bother to give him even of the bread crumbs that fall from his table which was always brimming with sumptuous servings (The rich of that time did not have napkins, so they used bread to wipe their hands. They did not eat this; this is to clean off from their hands the fat of roasted calf!). In his filthy affluence, he was blind to the plight of the poor Lazarus, who was so weak and helpless he cannot even ward off the dogs licking his wounds. Lazarus was rewarded because in his poverty, weakness and helplessness, he held on to God as his only help and hope.

Jesus reminds (and maybe even reproaches) us too, in our complacency and apathy.

We have in one way or another been blessed – yes, for ourselves and for our family, but ALSO for others. We are blessed so that we in turn may be a blessing to others.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Kaandingay, mangan-andingay, innandingay

We had our vicarial gathering yesterday in celebration of the feast of our patron, San Lorenzo Ruiz, at ICST. It coincided with their Kapihan (their occasional community party). It was sponsored by the Nuestra SeƱora de Caridad (Ilocandia) Formation Community led by Fr. Ramelo Somera and Fr. Marlon Belmonte. The theme was Kaandingay. We expected it to be a night to showcase and enjoy the best of the Ilocos - buridubud, sapsapuriket, tinola, tinuno and basi; kankanta, daniw and sala.

According to Fr. Marlon, kaandingay could mean three human values - (1) camaraderie - to be with another in friendship; (2) brotherhood - to be with one with another in respect and concern; and (3) comfort - to be with and for the other in time of need and difficulty. These three, he said are to be valued and practiced by every seminarian and priest - for each other, and for the people entrusted to them. The first nuance of kaandingay however is comfort - one is in sorrow, or pain because maybe of loss, or frustration, or disappointment, or disregard, or anything else - and the other comes as a kaandingay, comforting the earlier with his presence - mangan-andingay.

Fr. Ramelo added, that though his priesthood is always a source of deep joy and fulfillment, there are also times of difficulty, doubt, frustration and aloneness - even a priest needs a kaandingay. We are reminded to be available for each other.

Come to think of it, they are right. We all need a kaandingay. And who has been our most faithful and reliable kaandingay? God himself. I think this is what God exactly did when he became man - he came to be with us in camaraderie and brotherhood, and he comforts us with his presence. This I think is the full extent of innandingay - that God became one of us to comfort us in our human condition of finiteness by allowing us to experience brotherhood without bounds and camaraderie without conditions. And it is by these that he invites us to enter into God's infinity. It is by these that he restores us in our dignity and self-worth.

Innandingay then is a call and challenge for all in all relationships - marriage, family, community, friendships, work places, Church.

The night indeed was a showcase of the best of Ilocos - not simply the good food and the sweet basi, but the real best of Ilocos - the gift and openness to be kaandingay.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

musing in paint

This was sent via email by Bernice Rio. This he says is part of the collection of paintings he did, exhibited and opened for sale for the benefit of their seminary.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Three voices...

In this Sunday's Liturgy, three voices speak to us: the Prophet Amos (Amos 8:4-7), St. Paul (1 Timothy 2:1-8), and our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 16: 1-13).

Amos lived in the 8th century BC. He saw the prosperity of Israel, but side by side with it was the exploitation of the poor, and the corruption and injustices being perpetuated. The needy were trampled upon. The capitalists overpriced their merchandise. They cheated on the scales, and the quality of their products. The powerful buy up the poor for money, and the needy, even just for a pair of sandals!

This condemnation was made centuries ago, but the situation still persists. And as in the days of old, Yahweh, our God promises: "I shall never forget their deeds."

The situations of injustice, corruption, poverty and exploitation of the poor continue to exist in our present time, and have even taken on new forms. Talk about bribery and influence peddling in the government, red tape, bribery, "SOP" for projects, commissioning (ABZTEFG!). Talk about vote buying and results manipulation. Talk about the trampling of human rights. Talk about unjust trade practices, imbalance in trade liberalization. Talk about unequal opportunities in business, agriculture, education and employment. Talk about garapal employers and agencies. Talk about plunder and misuse of public funds. Talk about syndicates for drugs, gambling (jueteng!), prostituion, illegal recruitment.

Faced with these, we cannot be complacent. We may not accept these as normal - no matter how common they have become, no matter how embedded they have become in our social system, government, consciousness and culture. We may not accept injustice, corruption, poverty and exploitation of the poor as the norm.

Our first response may be to heed the call of St. Paul - to pray for each other, and in a special for our leaders - "for rulers of states, and all in authority, that we may enjoy a quiet and peaceful life in godliness and respect." We pray for those in positions of power – so that they will use the power they have been entrusted with for the good of all, and not for their personal gain. We pray that they may rise above the system of corruption, and stand up for the values of truth, justice and the common good.

We should not underestimate the power of prayer - for in the end, everything is in the hands of God. But we should not renege on our task. And so we are called to heed the call of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1. In today's Gospel parable (Luke 16, 1-8), Jesus deliberately uses the word "steward". Truly, we are STEWARDS. We do not own what we have; we have only been entrusted with it. This is to be a fundamental attitude. We have no right to amass more than what we need, because nothing is ours (except our sin). We are to share of the goods of this world, which is intended for all, not for a few. We are to make use of whatever we have been gifted with to earn for us an earthly life worthy of our dignity as children of God, but also to "store up for ourselves treasures in heaven" - to allow others, and to help also live an earthly life worthy of their dignity as children of God.

Jesus reminds us: "Whoever can be trusted in little things can also be trusted in great ones; whoever is dishonest in little things, will also be dishonest in greater ones."

A biblical scholar rightly puts it:

"We have no absolute right to anything we have. "I can do what I like with my money and property because it's mine" is not a statement any committed Christian can make. So the question of a successful life is not "How much did you make?" but "How did you use what you had to creative purposes for the general welfare of all?" That is the way to make the friends Jesus talks about in the Gospel.... Upon earth you are in charge of things which are not really yours. You cannot take them with you when you die. They are only lent to you. You are only a steward over them. They cannot, in the nature of things, be permanently yours. On the other hand, in heaven you will get what is really and eternally yours. And what you get in heaven depends on how you use the things of earth. What you will be given as your very own will depend on how you use the things of which you are only steward."
2. In the parable, the master praises the dishonest steward - not because of his dishonesty, but because of his cleverness. The wish of Jesus is that we, his disciples may also be zealous, ingenious and driven - "For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light." As Jesus sent his disciples, he admonished them - "Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves." (Matthew 10, 16) Jesus is sending us too, and he challenges us. If the people of this world could use all and any tactic to fulfill their scheme, we are also called to exert all our efforts, to exhaust all our creativity in doing good, and curbing evil, in going against a corrupt system. Yes, even a monstrous corrupt system.

If God is on our side, who can triumph against us?

These oft-quoted lines are fitting reminders: "It is better to light just one little candle than to curse the darkness." "For evil to triumph, it takes good men to do nothing."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Letting go and letting God...*

Letting God hold us and lead us will always be a struggle, as the initial step of letting go first of what we hold with our hands will always be difficult. But only when we have let go of what we hold and hold on to, that we can let God hold us.

Fr. Henri Nouwen has this illustration of really praying: moving from clenched fists to open hands - loaded imagery.

Again, it is and will be a struggle, given our situations and circumstances, and our own stubbornness. But God is bigger and more pervasive than any situation or circumstance. And he is far more "stubborn" in loving us, and wanting to have us share in his life.

By the way, I would appreciate if you would identify yourself when you comment. I think it is part of my calling to pray for people whose lives intersect with mine - yes, even only through the blogs.

(*Originally, this should have been a reply to a comment in my September 9 post. But i thought I might as well put it in as a regular post.)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lost, and found.

This Sunday’s readings (Ex 32, 7-11.13-14;1 Tim 1, 12-17; Lk 15, 1-32) bring us face to face with the human condition: we are vulnerable to sin, and we have in fact sinned.

More importantly though, the readings bring us to the awareness of a more fundamental truth, in fact, the only truth that matters: before we have sinned, even when we have sinned, and even in our sinfulness, God has never ever ceased to love us. Since the beginning, God has loved us, and he continues to love us. In God's eyes, even when we have sinned, our value, our worth has never changed.

Sometimes we stumble and fall, stray foolishly like the sheep, get lost in the seduction of others like the coin, or stubbornly rebel like the sons. The constant invitation for us is to rise, and go back to the Father - whose gaze is compassionate, not condescending, whose arms embrace, not strike, whose love gives life and restores our lost sense of self and dignity.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Following Jesus

In today's Gospel (Lk 14, 25-33), Jesus renews his invitation for us to follow him.
v25...large crowds of people were going along with Jesus...
Jesus was moving towards Jerusalem. This is significant, since Jerusalem stood for the culmination of the ministry of Jesus, where he is to be tried and condemned unjustly, tortured and killed brutally. We see here the resoluteness of Jesus to fulfill his mission - no matter what it takes. And many went with him, but not all were followers, not all were disciples.

There could have been 4 kinds of people who went along with Jesus - (1) those who wanted to see a miracle performed, without understanding who Jesus is, and why he was doing all these things; (2) those who waited for him to commit a mistake, so that they could hold him in this; (3) those who thought that he was going to Jerusalem to fight against the Romans, to reconquer Israel and liberate them from these foreign colonizers; (4) a little who were trying to understand who he really was, and what his mission is about.

The first were mere drifters and spectators; the second schemers; and the third, misguided activists. The first three were the anonymous crowd - they just went with Jesus; the fourth, are those struggling to understand who Jesus was and what his mission was all about. They are those whom the Gospel would refer as disciples, true followers of Jesus.

Jesus taught 3 challenges of truly following him:
v26"Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and themselves as well.
1) Jesus invites us to follow him in our relationships. He did not teach hatred, but love, the way he loved. In loving, Jesus loved passionately, and he loved everybody. Yes, Jesus had special preference for his mother, his friends and his disciples. But these relationships did not deter him from loving others too - in fact, it was what sustained him in his service for others, especially the poor and the needy.
v27Those who do not carry their own cross and come after me cannot be my disciples.
2) Jesus invites us to follow him at all times, even, and especially in the most difficult times - to love even when it is most difficult to do so. He invites us to take up our own struggles, and carry these with him. He does not promise to take our crosses, but he assures that he is with us.
v33..."none of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have."
3) Jesus finally invites us to follow him in trust - let go, and let God. The metaphor of Fr. Orbos is fitting: Jesus, calling us to follow him, calls us to hold on to him. But real holding on is not we grasping the hand of God, in which case, we open the possibility of us letting go of God. Real holding on to God is letting God hold us, and asking him never to let us go. It is letting go of everything in our hands, of all our attachments, and letting God hold us and lead us where he wishes to bring us.

There is infinite joy and peace in following Jesus. And this joy and peace Jesus wants to give us. We are however to love as Jesus loved, to love even in the most difficult times, and to let go and let God hold us, and lead us to this joy and peace. Open your heart to him today.

Have a blessed Sunday.

More than coffee and small talk

Together with the seminary fathers, and Fr. Gary, we had coffee with Prof. Randy David. A good brew is always a fine stimulant, to keep the mind active and the night infinitely young. But more than the coffee, the conversation was most stimulating.

It began with pizza and coffee. Then anchovies and annulment. The pizza was good, although the coffee was just okay. Then the talk shifted, thanks to the pizza which was named after a local political kingpin, to politics in the province and in Pampanga. Then, politics was followed by some remarks on ecclesiastical personages, the former and the latter, not always a good mix, but almost inseparable at times.

The meatier and more substanced talk began when Prof. Randy hinted about his talk tomorrow at the second day of the ICST Symposium (I hope I'd be able to write about the first day soon. It was greatly stimulating too.) - he was to venture into uncertain seas, so he said - "unfamiliar territory" but for which he was willing to "stick out his neck", though. He said he was to speak about theology, specifically on a nouveau thing in theology from an "unlikely mixed" theologian - the topic of kenosis as the the essence of God, and love as the heart of Catholicism, of Christianity. This of course is central in the Scriptures, but the current reading he shall speak of posits some uncharted (or maybe laid back) implications.

Then it got to Von Balthasar and his theological aesthetics which according to Fr. John was much like Prof. David's theologian's thesis, to Benedict XVI and his debate with Habermas, his facility with Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, and his great work, Deus Caritas Est, to his brilliance, piano prowess and smoking, to John Paul II's "theological time bomb", the Theology of the Body, to the dynamics of relationships and spirituality - awe and sublimity, beauty, sheer and pure sociability, to humanity and being human, to Levinas and Ethics and Infinity, to mysticism, conversion, faith, narratives and metanarratives, the Scriptures and worship, to passion about life and many more.

My temples warmed as I listened to the spirited exchange. I realized the brilliance of the man, Randy David, informed and reflective, indeed a man of postmodernity, and of the Rector, John Habawel, equally informed and reflective, a man in whom sentire cum ecclesiae becomes concrete.

Somebody said it well - shallow minds talk about people, average minds about events, and great minds about ideas. Tonight I had a glimpse at great minds. I was amused at the thoughts exchanged. But I know that would not be enough; I am to assimilate.

To begin with, I write this, and maybe tomorrow begin a good read.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Strain forward...

It is always natural to want to savor the fruits of one's labors, to linger in moments of fulfillment.

In today's Gospel (Lk 4, 38-44), Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law (4, 38-39) and a lot of sick people (4, 40) and he drove away demons, liberating many people from their bondages (4, 41). And the people of this place loved him. They begged him to remain with him (4, 42b). But Jesus replied, "To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent." (4, 43)

This I think highlights the wisdom of reshuffles/periodic change of assignments for priests and religious (aside of course from the fact that the parishioners or communities deserve a break and a change of guards =) - after the work we have done, we do not credit ourselves, and we are not to be exclusively attached - whether to people, to our work, or to anything of this world. After all, the work, the fruits of our labors, the success we may have achieved are not actually ours, but God's. We are but mere servants. We live for the mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.

The words of Blessed James Alberione, founder of the Pauline Family (priests and nuns) is a fitting reminder - "Mi protendo in avanti". - "I strain forward". We strain forward. We always move forward, even if we have to strain - doing the mission - giving ourselves for the mission, for God and his people.

Laudetur Iesus Christus.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Blessed are the meek and humble...

In the Jewish culture, the meal is of great importance – it is a symbol of the Kingdom of God, it is an expression of intimacy, and an occasion to recognize each other’s worth and importance as persons.

Jesus was invited to a party, and he could not take the prevailing wrongful attitude and practice. And so he took the occasion to teach.

1) Jesus first noticed that the guests all wanted to be at the place of honor, and so he related a parable (Lk 14, 8-11):

"When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, `Give your place to this man,' and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, `My friend, move up to a higher position.' Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

Jesus reverses their usual understanding. They thought that their place in social functions determines their worth in the community, that how they are regarded by other people determines their importance. On the contrary, Jesus teaches, that these have nothing to do with the real worth and importance of anybody. One priest put it well:

The only status that counts is one's relationship with God and how one relates with other people, irrespective of their classification by race, religion, profession or class. Our real status is measured not by our rank or occupation but by the level of love and service offered to God through our relationships with those around us. What counts is not how we are looked on by others but the degree of care and compassion with which we look at them. This calls for a strong inner security, which is independent of arbitrarily conferred status or position.
2) Jesus also noticed that those who were at the party were always of the same group – those that they invite are those who could invite them in return. And so he related another parable (Lk 14, 12-14):

"When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Jesus recognized that the people actually invited each other, to serve their own personal agenda. Sadly though, since a meal in the Jewish culture is a sign of the Kingdom of God. But they have denigrated it to a self-serving affair, a ritual of status-recognition, and a show of position and influence. That is why people who think of themselves as important would wish to be seated at the best places. And that is why those who throw a party invite people who could and would reciprocate the invitation, so that the former could also sit at a privileged place in the party of the latter – something like, scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours – a show-off charade. Plainly, they used each other, to further their status and influence in the community.

Unfortunately, such attitude and practice are prevalent not only in Jesus’ time, but also in ours. We recognize how people (we?) use each other to further our selfish gains. We recognize how we manipulate people to fulfill our ambitions.

One priest illustrates this creatively – are we a ladder community, or a round table community? In a ladder, we turn our backs against each other, we occupy positions and rise in rank, and maybe even, when we wish to go higher, we have to step over another. In a round table setting, we see each other face to face, recognizing each other’s unique person and inviolable dignity, and we genuinely interact.

At the base of it all, Jesus teaches us the virtue of humility. We can only recognize our own true worth and value in humility. We can only recognize and serve each other’s true worth and value, in humility. Let us pray for humility – it is such a difficult virtue, but indeed a necessary one – it is like a glass being empty – it is only then that God can fill it with his loving and life-giving grace. A thought I overheard could be a fitting conclusion to our reflection:

Humility is not thinking less of yourself than you are. Nor is humility always talking about your faults and shortcomings as compared with anyone else's superiority and achievements. Humility is simply the recognition of the truth about ourselves; and then most often, a forgetfulness of self that allows genuine concern for others and a genuine worship of God.

The first reading reminds us:

The greater you are, the more you should humble yourself and thus you will find favor with God. For great is the power of the Lord and it is the humble who give him glory.

Have a blessed Sunday.