Saturday, January 30, 2010

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Jer 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Cor 12:31-13:13; Lk 4:21-30

In today's gospel, we see the people’s cruel reaction to the person of Jesus. “They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff . . .” (Lk 4:29). Why are these people so mad of Jesus that they want to kill him?

John Pilch, a respected Bible scholar, provides us with some relevant information. First of all, it is customary in Mediterranean culture for a son to carry on his father’s trade and his grandfather’s name. Jesus causes a controversy because he does not seem to be carrying his father’s trade. The people are asking, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” They know Jesus’ family and they are aware of the fact that his father is a carpenter. And so they are wondering why this guy is doing something different. Why is he acting like a prophet instead of doing carpentry like his father? In the Mediterranean world, Jesus’ behavior is quite anomalous.

Moreover, the people are mad of Jesus because he preaches in his hometown but performs not a single miracle there. The people think that if this man really is a prophet and miracle worker, then he should at least do something for his own people and not simply announce the arrival of the Messianic age. Instead, Jesus aligns himself with the prophets Elijah and Elisha who had extended God’s favor to gentiles, considered outsiders by the Jews. Directing healing miracles to others first rather than to his own kinsmen make people extremely angry of Jesus.

Obviously, the Lord understands the universality of his mission and he does not want to show partiality in fulfilling his task. He wants people to understand that God plays no favorites, that divine love really is intended equally for all. The writers of the Old Testament also had this basic awareness of the encompassing nature of God’s love. In the first reading, for example, Jeremiah is appointed by God as a prophet to the “nations”, implying the universality of his mission.

Today’s good news inspires us to emulate the way Jesus fulfills his missionary task. Let us learn the art of universal loving, that which always considers the good of all, not only of the few who are close to us. Christian love, the theme of Paul’s letter in the second reading, embraces all, rich and poor, ignorant and educated, sinners and saints. For genuine Christians, selective loving is no loving at all. This message is particularly important for Filipinos because the “tayo-tayo (we) mentality” is quite strong in our culture. We are very proud of our strong spirit of bayanihan (camaraderie), pakikipagkapwa (fellowship) and pakikiisa (solidarity). But, our generosities often are very parochial and we lack genuine social concerns. It is unfortunately observed that while Filipino homes are immaculately clean, our public toilets are dirty. Our failing concern for the common good is manifested more clearly in the practice of nepotism which is quite rampant in our institutions, political and religious. We can afford to sacrifice the national interests in favor of our local constituents or of our families.

The gospel also inspires us to imitate Jesus’ courage to speak the truth, no matter what the cost. The Lord knows that by speaking against the clannish and exclusivist attitude of his own people, he will get the ire of his listeners. Nevertheless, Jesus goes on to speak the truth. He says what he has to say, and he doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process, even if it means him also getting hurt. The truth, for Jesus, is non-negotiable; it is not influenced by his own selfish interests. This also is an important reminder to us Filipinos because often we are willing to exchange our values and principles for the sake of political or financial interests. Our cherish value of utang na loob (sense of gratitude) has become for us a liability for genuine national prosperity.

Once there was a farming town that could be reached only by a narrow road with a bad curve in it. There were frequent accidents on the road, especially at the curve, and the preacher would preach to the people of the town to make sure they were Good Samaritans. And so they were, as they would pick the people up on the road, for this was a religious work. One day someone suggested they buy an ambulance to get the accident victims to the town hospital more quickly. The preacher preached and the people gave, for this was a religious work.

Then one day a councilman suggested that the town authorize building a wider road and taking out the dangerous curve. Now it happened that the mayor had a farm market right at the curve on the road, and he was against taking out the curve. Someone asked the preacher to say a word to the mayor and the congregation next Sunday about it. But the preacher and most of the people figured they had better stay out of politics; so next Sunday the preacher preached on the Good Samaritan Gospel and encouraged the people to continue their fine work of picking up the accident victims, which they did.

(The Story is told by Francis X. Meehan in A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers by William J. Bausch)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Conversion of Saint Paul (C)

Acts 22:3-16; Mk 16:15-18

Ordinarily, the Church celebrates the feast of a saint on his/her death anniversary. A holy person’s moment of death is the point wherein he/she starts living and enjoying life everlasting with God. In very few occasions, we also commemorate the birthday of a holy person such as that of Mary (September 8) and John the Baptizer (June 24). The feast, however, that we are celebrating today is unique because it is not a birthday or a death anniversary of someone, but a day of his conversion. Why does the Church celebrate in a special manner the day of Paul’s conversion?

First of all, the Church commemorates the day of Paul’s conversion in order to remind people of the power of grace over sin. The grace of God is greater than human sinfulness. It is difficult to imagine a sinner more evil than Saul of Tarsus (the man who later became Saint Paul). He was a religious fanatic and a murderer of Christians. He intended to wipe out all followers of Christ on this planet. But God chose to save Paul from the power of darkness and made His move while the murderer was on his way to kill more Christians. After his dramatic encounter with the Lord on the road to Damascus, Paul started to become the fearless apostle of Christ.

The story of Paul’s conversion should encourage us not to lose hope on someone. How many times have we said that a person is incorrigible or unredeemable? We should not say that to anyone, not even to ourselves. Not as long as a person lives is he/she hopeless. We should allow God to work His way to a person’s heart. We could give advices or provide guidance to a person through our words and actions, but ultimately, it is God who is going to change the sinner from within. It is never too late for anyone to be saved because God’s mercy is boundless and there is no time limit in His offer of salvation.

Moreover, the Church remembers the day of Paul’s conversion in order to remind us of the great celebration in heaven for every converted soul on earth (Lk 15:7). The Good Shepherd is willing to leave the ninety-nine of His flock in order to find one lost sheep. And when He finds it, He celebrates with His friends because every found sheep or every converted soul is worth the biggest celebration.

The story of Paul’s conversion should inspire us to work hand in hand for every person’s salvation. We should not attempt to convert the world; rather, we aim to convert one soul at a time, starting with our own. The great spiritual guru, Anthony de Mello, writes about a Sufi Bayazid who once said this about himself:

I was a revolutionary when I was young, and all my prayer to God was, ‘Lord, give me the energy to change the world.’

As I approached middle age and realized that half my life was gone without my changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come into contact with me. Just my family and friends, and I shall be satisfied.’

Now that I am an old man and my days are numbered, my one prayer now is, ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’ If I had prayed for this right from the start, I should not have wasted my life.”

(The anecdote is from A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers by William J. Bausch)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ika-3 nga Domingo sa Ordinaryong Panahon (C)

Neh 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10; Cor 12:12-30; Lc 1:1-4; 4:14-21

Sa tungatunga sa wali sa pari, dihay lalaki nga nakatulog. Mihunong ang pari sa pagwali ug giingnan niya ang asawa sa lalaki nga galingkod diha ra sa tapad: “Day, pukawa sab nang imong bana oy. Nganong imo man lang siya nga gipasagdang makatulog?”

Unya mitubag ang babaye pinaagi sa pag-ingon: “Padre, ikaw ang dapat mopukaw niya kay ikaw man ang nakaingon nga nakatulog na siya!”

Ang pagbasa, pagpaminaw ug pagpasabut sa Pulong sa Dios nahimong dakong kabahin sa kinabuhi sa katawhan sa Israel. Pananglitan, gisaysayan kita diha sa unang pagbasa giunsa pagdala sa usa ka pari nga gingalag Esdras ang Libro sa Balaod ni Moises ngadto sa katawhan nga nagkapundok, apil ang mga kabataan. Diha sa iyang pagpaambit ug pagpasabut sa Pulong sa Dios, gidasig ni Esdras ang katawhan nga magpabiling madasigon ug masaligon haloyo sa mga kalisod ug pagsulay nga ilang nasinati. Pinaagi sa makanunayong pagpaminaw sa Pulong sa Ginoo, ang katawhan sa Israel nailhan isip katawhan sa Dios ug nahatagan og makahuloganong kinabuhi.

Ang pag-adto ni Jesus sa sinagoga matag Adlawng Igpapahulay nagpakita sa iyang pagkamatinud-anon sa tradisyon sa iyang katawhan. Ang ebanghelyo nagsaysay nga usa niana ka higayon si Jesus mibarog sa sinagoga, mikuha sa basahon, ug mibasa sa usa ka bahin sa sulat ni Isaias nga nag-ingon: “Ang Espiritu sa Ginoo ania kanako. Gidihogan ko niya aron pagdala sa maayong balita ngadto sa mga kabos, pagsangyaw og kagawasan sa mga binilanggo, paghatag og bag-ong kahayag sa mga buta ug kagawasan sa mga dinaogdaog, ug sa pagpahibalo sa tuig sa kalooy sa Ginoo.” Adunay batid sa Bibliya nga misugyot nga kining bahina sa Kasulatan maoy paborito ni Jesus tungod kay kini naghatag og katin-awan sa iyang pagkatawo ug misyon isip anak sa Dios.

Si propeta Isaias nagsangyaw mahitungod sa usa ka kahimtang nga maoy gusto sa Dios para sa iyang katawhan – usa ka kalibutan nga pagaharian sa kaangayan, kagawasan, gugma ug kalinaw. Sa pag-ingon ni Jesus “Karong adlawa ang maong panagna natuman samtang namati mo kanako”, iyang gipasabut nga ang kabubut-on sa Dios natuman diha kaniya. Siya ang pinili nga gipasabut ni Isaias nga maoy magdala og maayong balita ngadto sa mga kabos, kagawasan sa mga binilanggo, kahayag sa mga buta, ug kaluwasan sa mga dinaogdaog.

Karong Domingoha kita gidasig, una sa tanan, sa paghatag og dakong bili sa Pulong sa Dios. Ang Pulong sa Ginoo mao ang pagkaon sa atong kalag. Ang Salmo karong adlawa nagpahinumdum kanato nga ang Pulong sa Dios maoy maghatag og bag-ong kinabuhi. kaalam sa mga yano. kalipay sa kasingkasing sa mga tawo ug lamdag sa atong mga mata (Salmo 18:7-9). Busa, angay gayod nga sa matag adlaw atong busgon ang atong kaugalingon sa mga Pulong sa Ginoo. Mahimo nato kini pinaagi sa makanunayong pagbasa ug pagpamalandong sa Balaang Kasulatan.

Unsa man ang kalainan sa Bibliya sa mga Katoliko ug sa Bibliya sa mga Protestante? Ang tubag mao kini: Ang Bibliya sa mga Katoliko manimahong ok-ok kay kanunay man naa sa aparador ug dili magamit. Samtang ang Bibliya sa mga Protestante manimahong ilok kay kanunay man nila nga bitbiton aron mabasa matag karon ug unya.

Bisan tuod makapakatawa kining maong sugilanon, aduna kiniy kamatuoran. Kitang mga Katoliko adunay pagkulang sa pagbasa sa Balaang Kasulatan. Ang Simbahang Pilipinhon nagdeklara ning semanaha nga “National Bible Week” aron dasigon ang katawhan sa pagbasa, pagtoon ug pagpamalandong sa mga Pulong sa Ginoo.

Ug ikaduha, ang Simbahan naghagit kanato sa pagtrabaho uban sa Ginoo alang sa katumanan sa Iyang plano para sa mga kabos, dinaogdaog ug nagkalisod. Pinaagi sa atong bunyag, kita nakaambit dili lamang sa dignidad ni Jesus kondili sa Iya usab nga misyon. Sama kang Kristo, kita adunay tawag sa paghatag sa kaugalingon alang sa pagpagaan sa kalisod sa mga kabos, pagpalingkawas sa mga naulipon sa sala, ug sa paghatag og maayong panig-ingnan alang sa mga kulang og kahibalo.

Diha sa ikaduhang pagbasa, gihulagway ni San Pablo ang katawhan sa Dios isip “Lawas ni Kristo”. Kini maoy iyang pamaagi sa pagdasig kanato sa pag-alagad sa usag-usa. Sanglit kabahin man kita sa usa ka lawas, angay gayod nga maghunahuna kita sa kaayohan sa tanan. Dili maayo nga ang atong kaugalingon lamang ang atimanon o amomahon. Gani, si Pablo mipasabot nga angay natong hatagan og pabor ang mga nagkalisod sama nga ang Dios mihatag og mas dakong pagtagad sa mga anaa sa ubos sa katilingban (1 Cor. 12:22-25). Ug midugang pa gayod si Pablo sa pag-ingon: “Kon usa ka sakop ang mag-antos, dapat mag-antos ang tanan uban kaniya; kon adunay usa ka miembro nga mapasidunggan, angay nga magsadya ang tanan uban kaniya” (1 Cor. 12:25-26).

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Neh 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10; Cor 12:12-30; Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21

The reading, hearing and explaining of God’s Word became an essential aspect of Jewish community life. The first reading, for instance, describes how the prophet Ezra brought the Book of the Law and read it before the assembly of men, women and children. In his sharing and explanation of the Word, Ezra tried to encourage the people to remain joyful and hopeful despite their trials and afflictions of the exile (Neh 8:9-10). It was the proclamation of God’s Word that sustained the life and identity of Israel.

When Jesus went into the synagogue on a Sabbath day, he was being faithful to the tradition of his people. The gospel recounts how Jesus stood up, took the scroll and read a part of the Book of Isaiah which says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord ” (Lk 4:18-19; cf. Is 61:1-2). Some Bible commentators would suggest that this was Jesus’ most favorite passage in all of Scriptures. The passage would shed light on his true identity and mission as the anointed one of God.

Isaiah’s prophecy was a vision of a world that God has long desired for humankind – a world of equality, freedom, wholeness and peace. When Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21), he was simply saying that God’s dream for humanity is being fulfilled in him. He is the anointed one referred to by the prophet Isaiah who would bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed.

The readings, first of all, inspire us to make the proclamation of the Word of God central in our daily lives. The Word should be our main source of nourishment and strength. This challenge is particularly important today when we hear a lot of attractive yet deceiving messages from people in the media and in consumerist and materialist society. The Psalmist reminds us that the Word of God provides spirit and life: “The law of the Lord is perfect; it revives the soul. The rule of the Lord is to be trusted; it gives wisdom to the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right; they gladden the heart. The command of the Lord is clear; it gives light to the eyes” (Ps 18:7-9).

Moreover, the readings challenge us to participate in bringing God’s vision to fulfillment by serving the poor, the oppressed and others who are in need. By sharing the life, joys, hopes and sorrows of the less privileged members of society, we are working to lessen the gap between the rich and the poor, to set people free from all sorts of slavery, to enlighten people from any form of blindness and to help them in their struggle for justice and equality.

Saint Paul’s metaphor of the “Body of Christ” inspires us to mutually minister to one another. Since all parts are important, there shall be no division but equal concern for one another. Interdependence among us is essential for the “Body of Christ” to grow and bear fruit. Affection, love or esteem must be given to all, and yet, we need to extend special preference to the inferior members of our community. As Paul says, “The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we cloth with greater honor. . . . God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:22-25).

The Body of Christ, therefore, is a community of co-responsibility. What Paul envisions is a community that lives together and that shares everything together. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Cor. 12:25-26).

Once in a carpenter’s workshop, there was this conversation going on. Everyone was accusing Brother Hammer because he makes a lot of noise. So Brother Hammer was in the chair, and he was the target of conversation. They said that Brother Hammer had to leave the workshop because he is always hitting Brother Nail on the head and he is always making noises.

And Brother Hammer said, “Okay, I will leave, provided that Brother Pencil leaves also, he always makes little impressions in the workshop, just a line, what use is Brother Pencil?”

Brother Pencil said, “I will leave the workshop, provided that Brother Plane also leaves because he always works on the surface.”

Brother Plane said, “I will leave, provided that Brother Screw leaves. Because Brother Screw, in order to make him do something, you have to turn him round and round, and round, and it takes time to make him do anything.”

Brother Screw said, “I will leave, provided brother Ruler leaves, because Brother Ruler always measures the others with his own measurements, as if he is the only one right here. He is the one who always measures everything.”

Brother Ruler said, “I will leave, provided that Brother Sandpaper leaves because he is always rough with others.”

Brother Sandpaper said, “I will leave, provided that Brother Saw leaves, because Brother Saw always cuts deep with his teeth. When he speaks, he is sharp, no mercy on anyone, as soon as the teeth hit, he cuts deep.”

In the meantime, during this conversation, while Brother Hammer was still in the seat, the carpenter of Nazareth entered the workshop. He put on his apron, and he had a job to do. He was going to make a table. So, he picked up the pencil, he picked up the saw, he picked up the planer, he used some screws, he used the hammer, he used some nails, he used the sandpaper, and by the end of the day, he had used all of the tools, and the table was finished.

Then brother saw said “I perceive brothers that all of us have a part to play in this workshop. There was not a tool that Jesus Christ used, that another tool could have done the job. There was not a single accusation that was not absolutely true. All the accusations were true, and yet, the carpenter of Nazareth, Jesus Christ used every one of those tools.

In the community we each have different characters, and like this carpenter’s workshop, each one of us has a unique part to play.”

(The story is from an unknown author)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Santo Nino

Filipino families would make little children the center of their attention. Children in Filipino homes are over protected and lavished with love from their siblings, parents and grandparents. This could be the most significant reason why the devotion of Filipinos to the child Jesus is quite strong. The Santo Niño is a little child whom we easily can love and shower with affection.

There are at least three reasons why we, Filipinos, should keep and develop our love to the Santo Niño. First of all, the Santo Niño reminds us of the beginning of the Christian faith on earth. The Santo Niño provides a visible representation of the great mystery of the Incarnation. When the fullness of time came, the Second Person of the Triune God decided to be born as a little child and to become one like us in everything except sin. At the center of our faith is the fact that God became little in order to make us great. Saint Irenaeus once wrote, “On account of His great love, He became what we are, that He might make us what He is.”

Second, the Santo Niño reminds us of the establishment of the Christian Faith in the Philippines. In 1521, the Spanish conquistadores landed in the Philippine soil. The missionary friars who were with them worked hard to introduce Christianity to the natives. In the beginning there was strong resistance, but after some time the friars were able to bring many to the Christian faith, including the king (Humabon) and queen (Juana) of Cebu. As a baptismal present, Magellan handed to the queen an image of the Santo Niño. Today, the same statue, which marked the Christianization of the country, is venerated in a beautiful basilica in Cebu.

Finally, the Santo Niño serves as a perpetual reminder of the key to our salvation. Jesus said, “Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (Mt 18:3). Obviously, the Lord doesn’t want us to remain a child forever. He wants us to mature physically, emotionally and spiritually. He likes us to grow in our faith and love of God and neighbor. And yet, in all these, the Lord wishes us to remain childlike. He wants us to remain humble, simple and trustful in God who is our Loving Father in heaven.

One big stumbling block on our way to heaven is pride. A proud person would forget easily that God is the source of all blessings. He would think that he achieves everything only with his efforts, and thus, would not be grateful to anybody, not even to God.

A proud person would hardly say “sorry.” He would see only the faults of others, not his own. Even when he recognizes his mistakes, he would not say “sorry” because repentance for him is a sign of weakness.

Worst of all, a proud person would be quick to judge and slow to forgive. A person who does not realize his own need of forgiveness would tend to be very hard on others.

As we celebrate the feast of the Santo Niño, let us be reminded that true greatness lies not in lording it over others, but in being grateful, humble, compassionate and merciful with others.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Epiphany (C)

Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12

A wealthy businessman was now old and wanted to retire. So he called his three sons and told them: “I am not going to divide my business and give it to all three of you. What I want to find out is this: which of you is the best businessman. So I am going to test the three of you. Whoever wins the test gets the whole business.”

So the old man gave each of the sons a thousand pesos. With that money each one was supposed to buy something which would fill a big empty room. The boy who filled the room most completely would win.

The first boy went out and bought a big leafy tree. He had it cut down and dragged into the room. It filled about half the room.

The second young man went out and bought all the kunai grass which some farmers were cutting off their field. They carried it in and filled most of the room.

The third boy was the smartest. He went to a small trade store and bought a candle for 25c. In the evening, after dark, he called his dad over to the large empty room. He then put the little candle down on the floor in the middle of the room and lighted it. After a minute or so he turned to his father and said, “Dad, can you see any little corner of this room which is not filled by the light of that tiny candle?”

That boy won the business.

(The story is from an unknown author)

There is an interesting fact about darkness that we should know. Darkness, no matter how sometimes overwhelming it is, can be destroyed by the smallest of lights. Such is the inspiration of the lyrics of the song: “It is better to light just one little candle than to stumble in the dark.”

The idea of a light shining in the dark is the central message of the feast of the Epiphany. The Church celebrates the manifestation of Jesus Christ who is the full revelation of God’s love for humanity. The three wise men represent people from different parts of the world who accept Jesus as the light that brightens the whole world, a light no darkness can extinguish.

This theme about light is quite relevant because many of us nowadays would choose to live in the shadows or in darkness. The hunger for money, power and glory has clouded our hearts. The desire for sex, alcohol, drugs and other things that offer only quick, temporary pleasure has also dominated the minds of people, particularly the young.

The Lord overcame darkness by his very life, a life filled with love and self-giving. Imagine how different this world can become if all people were following the ideals of Christ. Imagine how different the Church would be if all the baptized were faithful disciples of Jesus. And imagine also how different politics and socio-economics would be if leaders were working together like Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

Not only that we often fail to recognize the guiding light in Christ but we also hardly recognize it in one another. The feast of the Epiphany reminds us of our special calling to be a light of the world. We are to be living images of our Lord who brightened the world with his exemplary life. Christians, no matter how ordinary or how little, are called to share the love of God to everyone.

A spiritual writer identifies two centers of force in the world, namely: the “force of having” and “the force of giving”. Herod is the exact representative of the force of having. He is so self-absorbed. He only thinks of himself and of what he can get. Herod’s narcissism prompts him to kill the innocent children and many others whom he suspects as rivals to the throne. If the force of having rules, there would be chaos, darkness and death. The three wise men represent the force of giving. They know that their powers are entrusted to them to serve the needs of others. They recognize a greater Power that controls everything in the world. They want to know Him and to give honor to Him. Their humble recognition of God’s sovereignty moves them to go out of their comfort zones in order to find the Light of lights. If the force of giving rules, there would be peace, happiness and fullness of life.

British TV celebrity Malcolm Muggeridge went to India to film Mother Teresa’s nuns working with dying patients. His camera crew didn’t anticipate the poor lighting in the building and failed to bring extra lights. So they thought it useless to film the sisters at work. But someone suggested they do it anyway. Maybe some footage would be usable. To everyone’s surprise, the film was spectacular. It was illumined by a mysterious light. Muggeridge believes the light resulted from a “glow” of love radiating from the sisters’ faces. He sensed this “glow” himself when he first entered the building. He says it was “like the haloes that artists have seen and made visible round the heads of saints.” He adds, “I find it not at all surprising that the luminosity should register on photographic film.”

(The story is from an unknown author)