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Friday, May 30, 2014

ETERNAL LIFE





 ASCENSION – A

“Nature, in its infinitely slow process of development, obviously has a drive toward, and thirst for, constantly more highly organized life; but once having reached the level of consciousness, at which there seems to be nothing  more to strive for, the impulse turns back upon itself and becomes a drive toward death.  All that effort was in the end, not worthwhile.”   
                             (Hans Urs von Balthasar)                                                                 
With all the dark realities of life and the inconceivable inhumanity and brokenness around us, some world renowned thinkers see the present time as “world-darkening” (Martin Heidegger), a “time of abandonment” (Jacques Ellul), “eclipse of God” (Martin Buber).
Christianity offers a new way of seeing things which we call “theological hope”.  We Christians do not deny the fact that our present life is indeed far from the ideal and yet we just do not see it through the eyes of a guilty bystander or an indifferent traveller. It is a vision of realities which is deeper than optimism because it is the way God sees his creation: charged with a grand purpose yet mysteriously hidden in the eyes of the beholder.
Today as we celebrate the Ascension we do not only see it as the culmination of the earthly life of Jesus but his glorification by the Father for a “mission accomplished”.    It was the ultimate reward for his unwavering obedience to the will of the Father that cost him everything: from emptying himself when he became man in the mystery of the incarnation that led to his further emptying of self in the mystery of the cross.   We see Ascension as the exaltation of the One who went down to the abyss of death and experienced what was to be absolutely cut off from God which we call hell. From Separation to Communion!  It was the crowning moment of the One who gave up everything to the point of shedding the last drop of his blood which we call sacrifice. From Emptiness to Fullness!
  And yet we do not see it as Jesus’ retirement so he can enjoy heaven together with the angels.   It is actually a beginning of a new chapter in the history of salvation.  There is too much to be done so Jesus entrusted to his disciples the same mission he received from his Father: 
Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.  Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And he promised to remain with them always, until the end of the world…..
  This means that the incarnation of Jesus continues through his presence as the Head of Body, the Church.   Now he lives but not anymore limited by time and space because there is something that he wants us to embrace beyond the physical world and that is eternal life.  That is the ultimate and highest thing that Christian belief is supposed to be able to hope for” (von Balthasar).  And what is eternal life?  It is more than unending existence, it is sharing the divine bliss with God who is the supreme good which is beyond measure.  And this eternity starts right here, right now.

Friday, May 23, 2014

PARACLETE: The Holy Spirit as Companion



6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER – A

John 14:15-21



          Have you ever felt completely alone? Have you ever experienced the angst and anxiety of nostalgia?
        Because man is a social being, he tends to seek the company of others.  All of us have the basic need to belong  that is why society is formed.  We also cannot deny the fact that under normal circumstances, most of us, if not all, belong to a family which is the most basic unit of society.   Aside from our families, we also experience many forms of belongingness like being a member of clubs, councils, associations, religions, causes, schools, political parties and many others.  It is through these groups that we exercise our inter-relationship with others. In a more special way, we relate emotionally with our significant others like our loved ones.

         One of our greatest fears is to be left alone.  In many ways, we have experienced the pangs of loneliness and the angst of nostalgia.  This is true to a widow or widower who is left alone in the house most especially when the children are gone. This is the feeling of missionaries who miss home in foreign lands which are difficult and hostile; those people in nursing facilities or inmates behind prison bars waiting for a visit from their families; those who lost their loved one for good, and many others.

         God has always been persons-in- relationship hence we call them the Trinity. However Jesus would soon experience what was to be alone in the most horrifying way ever in his moment of abandonment on the cross.  There will never be an experience of aloneness much worse than being abandoned by God and Jesus experienced it himself.   Before he died, Jesus knew the anticipated feeling of his disciples of being abandoned in the world without him.  Not wanting them to experience the abandonment he would soon experience on the cross, he promised them the Paraclete who was the Holy Spirit.

         “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” was the assurance of Jesus to his disciples and to us.  He knew the feeling of being orphaned by God when man sins and chooses death: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  He experienced that on the cross on behalf of those reject God in their lives.  To be cut away from God is the worst loneliness ever which we may call hell.  Hell is the total absence of God.   For a moment Jesus experienced it on the cross and in his death as it is expressed in our creed: “He descended into hell.” 

         After his worst aloneness, Jesus would not let us experience the same so he sent the Holy Spirit to us; “He dwells with you and will be in you.”   Even in in our physical aloneness, we are never alone; we will never be separated from God because of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.   It was the Holy Spirit that was given on Calvary by Jesus to the Church after he died; the same Holy Spirit that was given together with the different charisms on Pentecost; the same Holy Spirit that was given to us when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation.

         With the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world, in the Church and in our lives, we will never be separated from God; we will never be alone!   The Paraclete was promised by Jesus before he died and was given as a gift after the Resurrection. 

        

Friday, May 16, 2014

EGO SUM VIA, VERITAS ET VITA




5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER - A

John 14:1-12

         Parting ways with a significant other or a beloved has always been painful.   We hate goodbyes most especially when the separation with a loved one is permanent.  When Jesus told his disciples that he was leaving them, their hearts were wrenched.  Like ordinary people, they were filled with sadness and distress in the impending departure of their Master.  When their hearts were almost broken with grief, Jesus gave them hope: “Let your hearts not be troubled; believe in God and believe also in me.”  He assured them a place in the Father’s house and promised to take them one day to where he would be.  To the question of Thomas about the uncertainty of the future, He proclaimed “I am the way, the truth and the life.” 
         Life is a journey and there are many roads leading to different destinations.   Religion has always led humanity towards its final destination which is life after death.  Sometimes people think that all religions are one and the same and religious founders like Buddha, Zoroaster, Mohammad, Jesus, Confucius, etc are all the same.  Whilst most of the world’s religions are based on the tenets and teachings taught by the founders, Christianity is based on the person of Jesus Christ.  Because these founders are all human beings, they can only teach their disciples a good way of life to follow.  Jesus is the only one who could say “I am the Way” because he did not only teach us a way of life but he also leads us to   walk through and with him in the journey that will eventually end to him.   Life’s journey becomes a pilgrimage when the road is sanctified because of the presence of Jesus. 
         The founders of great religions also taught their philosophies which are truly remarkable and worth following.   Christianity is more than just a philosophy, it is about the truth based on the person of Jesus Christ.  In front of Pilate, Jesus proclaimed that he was born to testify to the truth.  Pilate never understood what truth was, so he asked “What is truth?”  Jesus is the truth because he came from the father and wanted to bring everyone into the home of his father. 
         An authentic religion has to bring its followers into the realm of life that goes beyond death otherwise why would one follow a religion that does not know where to place its followers after death.  Among the religious founders Jesus was the only one who rose from the dead otherwise our faith is useless as St. Paul proclaimed (1 Cor 15:14).  Is it not a simple logic that we follow somebody who after rising from the dead will also raise us up after we die?  Not only  that, he also makes sure that there is a place for all his followers in his father’s house.   Jesus is the life because he is the only one who can assure us of a life that will last beyond our earthly existence.
         Jesus came into the world with the mission to bring humanity into a filial relationship with his Father and to gather one day all God’s scattered children back into the home of his Father.  We don’t have to be convinced about this because this is the truth that we believe in and there is no other way than Jesus who can give us eternal life.
         This gift that was given to us comes with a responsibility which is our participation in the mission of Jesus to bring all peoples into the Trinitarian life: with God as our Father, with Jesus as our Redeemer and with the Holy Spirit as our Sanctifier.  


Saturday, May 10, 2014

THE GOOD SHEPHERD






4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER - A

         For the past three Sundays of Easter, we have been reflecting the resurrection stories based on the appearances of the Risen Christ to certain individuals who were given a mission to proclaim the Resurrection: Mary Magdalene, the Apostles, Thomas particularly and the two disciples of Emmaus.  On  the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we do not have a resurrection story to proclaim but rather the proclamation of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  It is because the Risen Christ continues to manifest himself not just through the tales of those witnesses of the early Christian communities but also through the shepherds of the Church in the present time.  Through them, the Risen Christ walks with us and we encounter him the way the early disciples encountered him in the flesh.
         I will give them shepherds after my own heart” (Jeremiah 3:15).  This means that all shepherds of the Church have been formed in and after the heart of Jesus the Good Shepherd.   In Christian tradition we call our priests alter Christus or “another Christ” because they act in persona Christi or in the person of Christ.   In the very long seminary training of priests which usually takes eight to eleven years before they are ordained, they have been formed in all aspects of the priestly life.  During their ordination through the laying on of hands of the bishop, each priest is configured to Christ so that the priest is empowered to perform the priestly duties entrusted to him by the Church.  This is a great mystery because the priest, although elevated to a spiritual realm, remains a man himself with all his weaknesses and sinfulness. That is why the priest lives in two worlds: the spiritual and the material.  As the representative of the Good Shepherd, the priest is a servant-leader.   He is a spiritual leader who opens the doors of the sacred so that the people may experience the Divine.  By the virtue of his ordination, he performs the sacraments and liturgy which sanctify the People of God.  As a servant, he gives himself wholeheartedly in the service of the Church through a life-witness which is radical and unique.   Being formed in and after the heart of the Good Shepherd, the priest takes on the evangelical counsels of poverty, obedience and chastity which are radical expressions of his consecration.  He is set aside from the rest of humanity and is consecrated with the mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God.  These priests are our shepherds of today!  Through them, the sheep are gathered together in the sheepfold of the Church to be protected, nurtured and nourished.
As the shepherd is ready to lay down his life for the sheep, our shepherds sacrifice their lives for the sake of the sheep they serve.  
         In recent years, our shepherds have been under scrutiny because of scandals that wounded the sheep in the most horrible ways.   They have been humiliated, scorned and even convicted because of human weaknesses.   Although the dignity of the priesthood have been morally damaged by the crimes coming from the ranks nevertheless there are dedicated, saintly and true model shepherds who continue to live up to the ideal of the Good Shepherd. 
         The Risen Christ is the Good Shepherd who will continue to form true and genuine shepherds after his heart so that his sheep may have life and have it abundantly….
 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

EMMAUS: A WALK TO THEOLOGICAL HOPE




3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER – A

Luke 24:13-35



         What if you invested your life to a cause which had gone wrong or to a dream which became a nightmare?  What if your significant other or a beloved left you for good?  What is there to hope for when the reason to hope falls into an abyss of despondency?

         The two disciples of Emmaus represented the common and nameless disciples who after the death of Jesus were abandoning Jerusalem which used to be the symbol of their hope and dreams.   While leaving Jerusalem behind and going back to their former lives, they were entering into darkness as symbolized by the setting of the story which was about twilight.  But before they plunged into the darkness of their fallen dreams, the Risen Christ joined them in their journey.  Too much engrossed in their loss, they did not recognized Jesus although they were aware of the earlier sightings and stories of women that day.   Walking along with them, Jesus let them vent their frustrations about their prophet and the failure of his cause.   In the midst of the darkness of their hearts, Jesus enlightened them by explaining and interpreting the Scriptures.   Because the day was almost over, they invited Jesus to stay with them;  inside the house there was a reversal of roles:  the invited Guest now became the Host before a meal which soon became familiar to the disciples. Jesus took the bread, blessed, broke and gave it to them:  these were the Eucharistic actions of their Master that was known to their circles.  With that, their eyes were opened and they recognized him but he vanished from their sight.  Going back to their journey when the ‘stranger” joined them, they affirmed that their hearts were burning when the scriptures were being explained to them.  Immediately they went back to Jerusalem and reported their encounter to the Eleven.

         In moments when things go wrong after we have done our best, we feel betrayed by life and deep inside us we cry out “It is unfair”.   When our efforts and life-long works are not noticed and appreciated, we cringe into self-pity and we say “It is unjust.”  When God seems indifferent to our prayers and pleas and we do not understand his silence, we are tempted to think “God has forgotten me”.  The Emmaus experience tells us that the two disciples fell into disappointment because theirs was a human hope which was based on the human interpretation of the events.  Jesus brought them to the level of theological hope which was the divine way of seeing realities.  Seeing through the human eyes, the death of Jesus was a total failure but in seeing through the heaven’s eyes, it was a glorious exaltation of both God and man.  We experience this in the present time when we gather as disciples of Jesus and celebrate the Sacraments in the Church, the apex of which is the Eucharist “the breaking of bread.”

         Each of one of us has set a goal (or goals ) in life; we all want to achieve something definitive in this life.  Our efforts are geared towards its blossoming and realization  at the definitive time we have set for ourselves.  But our time is always ticking and towards the end we will have to face the reality of the irreversible degeneration when all we treasure most will disintegrate into trash and decay.  This was the dilemma of the two disciples of Emmaus and the same dilemma that we have to contend with for the rest of our life.    Without theological hope we will all fall into hopelessness and despair.  The only way out is to see everything around us as a gift!  The only way to possess that gift is to share it in communion with our fellowmen.  The two disciples of Emmaus could not contain the gift of the Risen Christ to themselves so they went back to Jerusalem with a mission to share their experience of the Resurrection. 

The mission entrusted to us is far greater than our own desires in life.