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Saturday, July 26, 2014

HIDDEN TREASURE: HIGHEST AND ABSOLUTE GOOD



17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A

Matthew 13: 44-52


    Aside from the primal instinct of survival, all of us have the longing to attain what we perceive to be good.  Depending on one's circumstances, goodness presents itself in many different forms.  It is always the driving force that defines why and how we live our lives.  It determines our value system and our day to day choices.  Without this goodness, life will be doomed to decadence and will never reach its full realisation.
    In the parable this Sunday, goodness is symbolised by the treasure hidden in a field which a man discovers, sells everything he has and buys the field.  It is the same with the pearl of great price discovered by a merchant, sells everything and buys the pearl.
    To us Christians, the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price is Jesus Christ.  It is hidden because it is a gift lying in the depths of our hearts under the veil of faith.  After the apostolic times, all those who embraced the Christian faith, which include us, had never experienced Jesus in the flesh. We simply rely on the faith which has been handed down to us through the Oral Tradition, the Scriptures and the Teachings of the Church.  The paradox of divine revelation is the inability of the human mind to grasp the inexhaustible reality of God even if He continues to burst Himself generously to us.  The hiddenness of God is not because He does not want to reveal Himself fully to us but because of our inability to contain such magnitude of wisdom which is beyond measure. Because it is hidden in the eyes of the world, those who do not have faith might judge the believers as somewhat weird, funny, irrational and even out of their mind.
    Those who do not know the hidden treasure buried in the field nor understand the true value of the pearl of great price might be laughing at the top of their voice: “why would somebody sell everything just to buy the field or the pearl?”  The treasure of the Kingdom of God can only be appreciated and acknowledged by the heart which sees beyond what the eyes can perceive.  This is shown to us in the lives of the saints who saw beyond what was perceived by their senses. That is why in the eyes of the world, they may look like crazy and foolish.  If Christ has already paid the price of the treasure being offered to us through his life and death so what's the point of selling everything in order for us to own it?  It is because the price paid by Jesus was just the "down payment" and his believers have to pay the subsequent payment which is our personal participation towards the full possession of the treasure.  "To sell everything" can be of different contexts to each one of us depending on the mission entrusted to us.  To the Apostles, it means leaving their boats and families behind; to some, it means leaving loved ones and homelands; to others it means giving up possessions and careers; to many of us, it can be the big or small sacrifices being asked of us every now and then.  But why do we have to give up these things?  It is because nothing in this world should hinder us in acquiring the Highest Good and no person should be an obstacle in possessing the Absolute.  When God gives it as a free gift, we also have to give something of our selves so that our human generosity is matched by  divine magnanimity.  It is good to ask ourselves every now and then: "What have I given up for God?"  "Up to what extent of myself am I willing to give up to possess the true treasure?"
    The third element in the parable is the joy of possessing the treasure.  Sometimes we give so much attention to the pain of losing, of giving up, of sacrificing without realising the joy of possessing the reward of such self-effacement.  Because God is the Highest and the Absolute Good, nothing can equal the value and joy of possessing Him or maybe to say more correctly, of being possessed by Him.  To possess God or being possessed by Him is far more precious than all the combined worldly treasures and the rarest pearls in the world.

Friday, July 18, 2014

THE WHEAT AND THE WEED IN ME



16TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A

Matthew 13:24-43



         The theme of most animated films has always been the battle between evil and good.  Amongst my favourites are the Lion King, Kung Fu Panda, The Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, to name a few. The world has always been the battlefield between good and evil as shown in the stories of the superheroes like Batman, Spiderman, Superman, The Avengers, etc.   The evil one might enjoy temporary and short-lived victory but at the end it is always the good one who always wins.  

         In the parable of the weeds and the wheat, we find the reality of the existence of good and evil in the moral and religious context.   Like the reapers in the parable who wanted to root up the weeds, we also want to get rid off the evil elements in the world.   To maintain peace and order in society we have the penal system not just to punish those who have committed crimes but to free our streets with offenders so we can live in peace.   We even go to the extent of installing safety measures in our homes and workplace to ward off intruders with evil intent. But even with the presence of the police and other safety measures in place we are not totally safe because bad people still roam around and lurking in the dark ready to strike at an opportune time.  The recent crash of the Malaysian Airlines in Ukraine which was hit by a missile where 298 people died and the war between the Palestinians and the Israelites in the Gaza Strip:  are concrete examples when the lives of innocent civilians go to waste because of the aggression of evil men.

This battle between good and evil is not just happening in the world, it is also a reality that we have to contend with inside our own hearts.   The wars and terrorism and violence that we see happening in the world today and in the past all begin in one’s heart.  

According to Neuropsychological research, we “otherize” when we place people outside the circle of “us” and our brain automatically begins to devalue them as less human, unworthy of respect, deserved to be treated badly and to be attacked merely because they existed.   This “otherization” which is an innate and human capacity finds its worst expressions in the Jewish holocaust by Hitler, the Indian genocide by the Spanish invasion of the Americas, the Inquisition by the Catholic Church and in many dark moments in world history.   We still “otherize” by being a racist when we look down at other people because they look different from us and as if we are better than them.  We cannot also judge other people by their external looks  because they are not as pious or religious as we are.

       The good news is that we have a merciful God who sows goodness in our hearts.   Because of our weakness, some weeds might have found their way to our hearts but the wheat is still there even in the worst amongst us, ready to be transformed if only we surrender to God’s grace.  We have seen them in the lives of St. Mary Magdalene, St. Paul who was a murderer, St. Augustine the playboy and many of our saints who in the eyes of the world before were useless weeds. 
         
       Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson tells the story of “…a Native American elder who was asked how she had become so wise, so happy, and so respected. She answered: ‘In my heart there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day.’”  (Tom Moon)  Which wolf did I feed today?

         “I might be a tiny seed of wheat planted in the field of weeds but I shall grow amidst the hostilities surrounding me and multiply myself so that one day I shall be ground into flour for God’s sacred bread to be offered in God’s sacred feast….”

Friday, July 11, 2014

THE SOWER, THE CREATOR

15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A

Matthew 13:1-23



                           The Parable of the Sower 



         Vatican II states: “To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in the liturgical celebrations.  He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, ‘the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered Himself on the cross, but especially under the Eucharistic species… He is present in His word since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the church” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy #7).

         When we listen to the parable we proclaim this Sunday, our attention is focused on the Sower who is the main character and yet we also ask where are we in the parable. 

Everything around us and everything of the past and of the future are the works of the hands of God.  We believe that it was through the Word that God created all these realities not only in the Book of Genesis but in the continuous transformation of creation which according to Teilhard d’ Chardin will reach its peak in the Omega Point.  If creation is a continuous process of becoming then God has never stopped uttering His Word until everything finds its full realization in Christ: “The whole creation has been groaning with labour pains together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves… groan as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8: 23).

When God speaks, He creates!  When He creates He is like a sower who sows the seeds.  The prophet Isaiah reminds us of the power of the creative Word: “As the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth making it bring forth and sprout, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return empty…” (Is. 55:11).  This is the sower that we see in the parable who speaks, who creates and longs for the fruits of his creation.   His creative Word finds expression in nature, in the historical narrative, in the events that shape our world, in the ordinariness of our lives, and in many ways beyond our comprehension.   This same Word speaks to us heart to heart in the most intimate way through the Liturgy and most concretely in the proclamation of the scriptures in the celebration of the mass.  We as listeners are the four kinds of fields to which He sows the seed of the Word: 1) Indifferent: those who hear the Word phonetically as a sound but have no desire for conversion therefore are not affected because the Word does not sink in and never touch their hearts at all. 2) Superficial: those listen to the Word and immediately receive it with joy and enthusiasm but only skin-deep because it does not take roots so it withers away just so easily. 3) Busybody: those who hear the Word but do not really care because they are more concerned with their success and riches.  They come to church on Christmas and Easter, give to charities, send their children to catholic schools but they are just so engrossed making a name for themselves, building up their brilliant careers and professional lives.  Some of them go back to church in their old age after realising the emptiness of material gains. 4) Fruitful: those who listen to the Word and are continuously transformed and also transforming others by the fruitfulness of their faith.  They are those who help re-create this world by transmuting the Word into concrete acts of charities, shouting the Word in the silence of their good works.

When God sows He speaks to our hearts, He re-creates us and as we are fashioned into the Word that continuously moulds us, we also help in re-creating the world into a better place for our children’s children, a true home now and in the future.


Friday, July 4, 2014

COME TO ME ALL YOU WHO ARE WEARY




14TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A

Matthew 11:25-30 

        

         Life is a riddle and mystery, a burden and  tragedy, a gift and wonder, and many others: depending on which window we are looking through.   Science and religion and many other disciplines have offered help to humanity in search for the meaning of life amidst its complexities and idiosyncrasies.   In his book “Man's Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl, chronicling his experiences as an inmate in the Auschwitz concentration camp, thought of identifying a purpose in life to feel positively about, and then constantly imagining that outcome.  According to Frankl, the way a prisoner imagined the future and the thought of a beloved affected his longevity.   St. Maximillian Kolbe who was in the same concentration camp found the meaning of life by offering himself in exchange for freedom of a fellow inmate.

         Maybe none of us will ever experience the horror of a concentration camp but we have experienced bits and pieces of the burdens of life. It could be a burden when a loved one has disability or a difficult sickness or a terminal illness; when we are not able to meet up with the basic necessities of life; when our families lack proper housing and food; when unfortunate tragedies happen unexpectedly! Some of these burdens are long lasting while others are short-lived.    So the question is: How do we cope in such situations when life brings us to a very long tunnel of endless misfortunes?

         Finding no meaning in one’s struggles and no way out in the dark tunnel, some enter into depression or despondency, while others give up so easily by ending up one’s life.   On the other hand Jesus offers hope: “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest.”    In other words, it is Jesus who offers the true meaning of life.  Without this meaning, life is like a bubble that bursts into thin air and ends to nowhere.

Jesus does not promise us a rose garden; he does not promise a burden-free life but rather he says “take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Christianity is not a fairy tale religion which has a free pass for the burdens of life; Christians are not exempted from pains!  In fact those who follow Jesus have more crosses and trials as we see in the lives of the saints.   So what’s the point when these burdens remain?   St. Paul in the second reading reminds us: “You are not in the flesh, you are in the spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.”    It means that we have a companion to help us carry the burdens of life; that we are not alone in our struggles.  Jesus is a friend who is always there as a light unto our feet when life brings us to a tunnel of  darkness and confusion.   

What is the difference between an atheist and a Christian who both wake up in the morning?  An atheist sees the sun and declares it a beautiful day; a Christian sees the light and is awed by a new creation.   What is the difference at the end of their lives?  Both of them are going to a journey:  A dying atheist looks forward to the annihilation of his consciousness into the unknown; a dying Christian looks forward to a fullness of life awaiting for him in the bosom of God.