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Friday, March 28, 2014

SEEING WITH THE HEART



4TH SUNDAY OF LENT – A

John 9:1-41



      In the classic book “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the fox told the Little Prince a secret before they parted ways: “It is through the heart that one can see rightly.  What is essential is invisible to the eye.”  The liturgy this Sunday is about seeing: the First Reading is the story of the call of David.  The prophet Samuel was reminded by God that “the Lord sees, not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks unto the heart.”   St. Paul in the Second Reading admonished the Ephesians “once you are darkness but now you are light in the Lord so walk as children of light.”

      The gospel is a wonderful drama of the cure of the man born blind with six scenes: 1) On a Sabbath Jesus cures the blind beggar using spittle mixed with mud 2) the reaction of the crowd 3) the beggar gives his testimony to his neighbors and the Pharisees 4) the testimony of the parents of the beggar 5) the beggar is called again by the Pharisees and is expelled 6) Jesus meets the beggar and confronts the Pharisees.

      The background of the story was the expulsion of the Jewish Christians from the Jewish synagogues during the time of the writing of the Fourth Gospel.  To encourage the early Christians during persecutions, John brought back to life the experience of the blind man who was expelled by the Pharisees but was met by Jesus.  During the darkest hours of the Church, Jesus is the Light!

      Jesus corrected the common false belief of the time that bad things happen to bad people and the blindness of the man was due to the sin of the parents.   The cure of the blind man would show the compassion of God.  Through this miracle Jesus showed that the goodness of God is at work in the midst of darkness and human impossibility.   When Jesus used spittle mixed with mud to cure the blindness, he was re-creating humanity now represented by the blind man like a new Genesis by giving him first the gift of light.  The dirt of man was once again sanctified by the mouth of God.  Mixing the spittle with mud and rubbing it on the man’s eye during Sabbath was unacceptable to the Jews which heightened the escalating tension between Jesus and the Pharisees.   Jesus’ act in the eyes of the Pharisees was profane, unlawful, sinful and therefore was not the work of God.  The beggar testified to his neighbors that he was the blind man who used to sit and beg and now was cured by a man called Jesus.   The Pharisees who could not believe that the cure was from a sinner having it done during the Sabbath called the beggar to testify.   He presented the same testimony to the Pharisees and now proclaimed Jesus as a prophet.  Still they could not believe, the Pharisees called the parents of the beggar to testify.  Because of the fear of expulsion the parents gave a very cautious testimony.  For the second time the beggar was interrogated by the Pharisees, he proclaimed that Jesus was a man from God.  When the beggar was expelled by the Pharisees because of such bold proclamation, Jesus met him and in their encounter the beggar professed his faith: “Lord I believe.”

      Aside from physical blindness which is the lack of visual perception due to physiological and neurological factors, there is legal blindness as well as hysterical, emotional and spiritual blindness that cripple many of us in the present time.  

      The story of the man born blind and his cure confronts our way of seeing.   Let us ask ourselves: Are we able to see the works of God in the ordinariness or little wonders of the day? in the darkness of our problems and crises? in the goodness and compassion of people who touch our lives?   The real tragedy in life is not to lose our physical sight but to lose hope in situations of human impossibility, to stop loving when we find no reason to love, and to stop believing in the goodness and wonders of life.

It is through the modern spittle of God mixed with the mud of our human experience that we encounter him re-creating us by walking with us so that we may continue to live as children of light in the midst of the darkness that engulfs us.  It is in these encounters that we are profess “Yes Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

LIVING WATER


3RD SUNDAY OF LENT – A
John 4:5-42

Of all our planet’s forces, perhaps none has greater power than water.  It is the most magical force on earth; the presence of water shapes, renews, nourishes our planet.  It is our planet’s life-blood that flows continuously which is an ingredient for life.  Water makes earth alive.”  (Prof. Iain Stewart, BBC: How Earth Made Us?)   We know that water is essential to life!  It is the cradle of life! Science tells us that the first life form on earth was born in water. All the major ancient civilizations built their cities and empires in places where there was water.
In today’s gospel, Jesus revealed himself to the Samaritan woman as the spring of water welling up to eternal life.
The encounter happened in Samaria on a very unholy hour which was about 12noon (sixth hour) and with a Samaritan woman.  It was in these very unlikely setting that Jesus would reveal himself and something spectacular in the dialogue between him and the woman.   The well did not just provide water but a place of social interaction for people who usually went there early in the morning to avoid the burning sun.  Jesus sat on the well, exhausted from his journey, to meet the Samaritan woman who was avoiding any company.  The well symbolized spring yet to be revealed; sitting on the well symbolized the weakness and humility of Jesus as a man being thirsty; the Samaritan woman symbolized the emerging Church from the Gentiles in the process of conversion.  On that very ground, Jesus came so that the Samaritans, who claimed to be the inheritors of Jacob (Israel), might recognize him as the Christ and the legal heir of their ancestors.  The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans who, after their return from exile, were considered as impure, aliens and enemies. 
Jesus being thirsty initiated the conversation by asking the Samaritan woman for a drink but the water Jesus was asking was not the one she thought to be.   By asking for a drink, He wished to satisfy the thirst of the woman by giving her the living water which she still   misunderstood as coming from the well.  When he told her that whoever drank the living water he gave would never be thirsty again, the woman understood now the spiritual meaning and begged him for that living water.  At this point, Jesus asked her to call her husband in which she said she had none.  He knew she had had five husbands and the one she had now was not her husband.  The five husbands represented the five senses that led her to error and her husband at the moment made her an adulterer.  The woman who was not offended by Jesus’ revelation, raised her admiration of him by acknowledging him as a prophet.  Jesus’s invitation was  to leave her sinful past in order to marry a lawful husband who was the Word of truth, Jesus Himself.   Jesus was leading the Samaritan woman now as an emerging Church-bride into a fuller understanding of him as the bridegroom.  Jesus, addressing himself to her as Church, proclaimed that one day true worshippers would worship the Father not in that mountain nor in Jerusalem but in spirit and in truth.  Then Jesus revealed himself to her as the Messiah.  When the disciples came, the woman left her water jar which represented her earthly desires, prejudices and old self and went to the city as an apostle telling everyone about her encounter with the Christ.  The Samaritans believed and proclaimed Jesus as the Saviour of the world.
If water is the “soul of the earth” that shapes, nourishes and renews creation, Jesus is the spring who gives living water which is the Holy Spirit to those who thirst for truth.   The Lord continues to seek the Samaritan woman who is the emerging Church amongst the wells of other cultures and religions offering them truth.  The Lord also continues to seek the Samaritan woman who is us in the present time offering us continuous conversion and fullness of life.  Like the Samaritan woman, after we encounter the Lord and experience conversion, we become channels of grace which is the life-blood that flows generously to the world.

Friday, March 14, 2014

TRANSFIGURATION OF JESUS, HUMANITY & CREATION



2ND SUNDAY OF LENT – A
Matthew 17:1-9

To listen to the Australian Catholic Radio Online:

http://cradio.org.au/talks-and-resources/homilies/fr-vladimir-echalas-solt/transfiguration-salvation/ 
        
          Our human body in itself is a wonder that started as a single cell during conception and grows into a complex machine as it matures.  From its early existence it is transformed through   impressively elaborate processes from a literally tiny speck which is even invisible to the naked eye into our present magnificent physical structure.  In order to build up the physical body we have today, there is a constant dying of old cells in order to give birth to new ones.  Examples are the following:  Deep inside our bone marrow there are 150 millions of red corpuscles that die every minute after circulating our body and yet another 150 millions are born anew; our skin sheds and re-grows every month; every 10 years we have a new skeleton, etc. (BBC's documentary Inside the Human Body)  Our body is constantly changing when old cells give way to new ones until the time when the bodily processes come to a halt that leads to our last breath.
         Our life is more than the sum of all the processes that we go through from the womb to the tomb.   A human being is not just a physical body that is understood by empirical science but a person who is capable of transcending his existence beyond the physical world.  This is shown to us in the Transfiguration of Jesus.
         When God created humanity, the Word was the "mold" by which every man and woman would be formed.  Out from that mold which was the Son, humanity would be formed as the children of God.   Yet sin came along and destroyed that likeness.   The only way humanity could be redeemed is for the Word to incarnate himself into the flesh which was destroyed by sin.   When this happened, humanity would be re-created again back to its “Christic form”.   It is not just by assuming the sinful flesh that God re-creates humanity but by transforming it through a painful birthing in the Paschal Mystery.
         In the Transfiguration, the voice of the Father was heard: "Here is my son, the Beloved, listen to him."   It was a loving reminder that by listening to the Word we can be transformed and become beloved of the Father once again.    Jesus knew that listening to the Father was obeying his will (obedience is from ab audire which means to listen), and taking up the cross was the Father’s will which he had to follow.   Transfiguration then was the foretaste of the glory that would be given to Jesus by the Father in reward for doing his will.   Yet the meaning was not yet understood by Peter, James and John at the moment because they were overwhelmed by the “out of this world” experience.
What is the connection of Abraham (First Reading)  to the Transfiguration? Abraham was called by God to leave Ur to go to the Promised Land.  Why did God ask Abraham to leave Ur?  Because Ur represented Abraham's old self where he was worshiping other pagan gods.  Like Abraham unless we leave behind our old selves together with the idols and gods we have been worshiping in our lives, we will never experience our own transfiguration.  It was a very difficult journey for Abraham because he did not know where the Promised Land was.  Our own journey will not be easy either, like Abraham's.  Along the way, we will carry own crosses, we will be tested, we will fail, we will cry, we will ask questions.  But we just do not walk by sight because this is a pilgrimage of faith wherein God is walking with us all the way.  At the end of the pilgrimage is our very own Mt. Thabor wherein our true selves are awaiting to be transformed just like Jesus. 
Transfiguration is not just a continuous phenomenon that is happening to us as human beings, it is also happening to the whole creation.    Because “creation is charged in the grandeur of God” (Gerard Manley Hopkins), it continues to groan in the labor pains of birth and re-birth (Romans 8: 22).  This calls every man and woman to be stewards of creation we call home and to be co-transformers of the all the gifts contained therein.   Every act of injustice against humanity and ecology is stifling the breath-Spirit that animates them.  Taking away that breath against the will of God, is raping the sense of the sacred in creation and stopping it towards its full transfiguration.
         Whenever we celebrate the Eucharist, we come to our spiritual Mt. Thabor wherein we experience the transfiguration of Jesus on the altar together with our own transfiguration and the congregation and the world as well.  We may not see nor feel it because it is something internal and spiritual.  The Eucharist is the foretaste of our transfiguration in heaven which is the true Promised Land.

Friday, March 7, 2014

TEMPTATIONS TO ISRAEL, JESUS & US




1ST SUNDAY OF LENT – A

Matthew 4:1-11



For the First Sunday of Lent, as the Church proclaims the three temptations of Jesus, our reflection brings us back not just to the moment in time when Jesus was in the desert for forty days and was tempted by the devil but also when Israel was in the desert for forty years and was tempted in the same way.   As members of the New Israel and as followers of Jesus, we will have to experience the same temptations.

The first temptation:  During the journey of Israel in the desert, in their struggle for survival the first temptation was to trust in their own power in order to live.   They were unwilling to trust God to give them subsistence.   Now Jesus entered into the same desert to rectify where Israel had failed.  He experienced the inhospitable and dangerous desert journey and most especially the hunger of Israel.   As the head of the New Israel, he did not rely on his own messianic power even if he could to satisfy his physical hunger.  Instead, he abandoned himself to his Father in full trust, perfect loyalty and unwavering dependence.  This is our own economic temptation: we cling to anything that will make us survive, no matter what the cost is.  Yes food is our most basic need, but there is more than the craving for physical satisfaction: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

The second temptation:  When Israel was in Massa and Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7), they demanded a miracle from the Lord to give them water from the rock.   In the same way the devil tempted Jesus to perform a miracle by throwing himself from the top of the temple.   Because Jesus fully trusted in his Father, the devil tempted him to abuse this trust by demanding something spectacular.  Jesus redeemed Israel’s failure by not giving in to the demand of the devil: “Do not tempt the Lord your God.”  In the present time, the devil’s temptation to us appeals to pragmatism and to make religion worldly.   We make demands to God and  we crave for miracles in the name of trust and providence believing that God will not fail us.

The third temptation:  When Moses stayed on Mt. Horeb for forty days, the Israelites clamored for the presence of God and were tempted to make the golden calf as their god.   It was idolatry.   Jesus in the same way was tempted with worldly power and wealth if only to worship a false god.   In redeeming Israel, Jesus once again proclaimed his fidelity to his Father: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”   The offer of the devil to Jesus is as real as it is now to those who want the easy way towards fortune and fame.  Why would I take the hard way and make sacrifices when I can get these things without the sweat of my brow.  Sometimes, we never know, we are already entangled in the web of our idolatry because we have been addicted in worshipping our worldly idols. 

Israel was tempted and failed.  Jesus was also tempted but triumphed!  In the same way, we will also be tempted as long as we live but if we remain faithful to Jesus and do not rely on our own power, he will turn these temptations into moments of  grace as he re-creates us closer to the person he wants us to be.