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Saturday, November 29, 2014

ACTIVE WAITING


1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – B
Mark 13: 33-37

Why do we put candles on our cake when we celebrate our birthdays?  Because  candles are symbols of beginning and end.  In Genesis, light was the first thing that God created; with this in mind, the candles remind us of our birth, a beginning that is rooted in God.  And why do we extinguish the candles? Because we are reminded that we do not live forever; that our time is limited and like the candles, we experience many small deaths as we give our light to the world until we reach the time of our final dying when we have to surrender our lives back to God, the Giver.
Today, the First Sunday of Advent, we enter into a new season in the liturgical calendar of the Church.  It sounds a little bit weird that we open the new liturgical calendar with a pericope from Mark 13, a part of an apocalyptic material which sounds terrifying and horrible.  This chapter opens up with the prophecy of Jesus regarding the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.  As we begin the liturgical season of Advent, like the candles on our cake, the Church also reminds us with he first candle in the Advent Wreath that we do not have the luxury of time hence the attitude of active waiting.
When Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, he did not say the time when it would happen.  It really did happen in 70AD when the Romans destroyed the whole of Jerusalem.  
The parable this Sunday is about the Doorkeeper.  In Palestine, the doorkeeper is in charge of watching the property most especially at night to secure the household against robbery or theft and to open the door should the master arrive home late.   Therefore the main characters of the doorkeeper are watchfulness and vigilance. 
          Jesus is the master of the house who is on a long journey and his “prolonged absence” will end with a glorious and sudden return which we call the Parousia.  Every Christian is a doorkeeper who awaits the return of Christ.  Just as the doorkeeper must watch and be vigilant because he does not know the time of his master’s return, so we must also be watchful because we do not know the time when Christ will come again.   As doorkeepers, we are also vigilant towards our definitive and personal encounter with Christ.  We are not “passive waiters” but rather we make use of the time, talents and treasure that God has entrusted to us while waiting for his return.
 Our whole existence is a waiting for God who is our future and our destiny.  Our attitude is not of fear but of expectant joy and full of hope just like when we await the coming of a long expected beloved.


Friday, November 21, 2014

GOD'S PRESENCE IN THE UN-GODLY






CHRIST THE KING
Matthew 25:31-46

We have now come to the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar of the Church which is the celebration of Christ the King.  At the end of time, Christ will come again as the King of heaven and earth.  As King he is still the Good Shepherd and being a shepherd, he will also be our judge.
           
        Most of us live in a democratic society but to those who still have monarchies, their king/queen is a symbol of unity.   David was a shepherd before he was made a king and was the greatest of all the kings of Israel.  The other kings were bad because they were not good shepherds and so God promised that he himself would be their shepherd and King.  Jesus Christ who was the Good Shepherd (Jn. 10) was the fulfillment of that promise.

     The Second Coming of Christ (Parousia) is judgment day!  According to the gospel, he will judge like a shepherd who  separates the sheep from the goats.  Although during the day both the sheep and goats are pasturing together but in the evening the sheep prefer the open air so the goats have to be brought inside.  Because most of the sheep are white they became a symbol for goodness and are placed on the right; while the blackness of the goats symbolized badness and are placed on the left.  Just as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goat at the end of the day, Christ as a shepherd and king will also separate the good from the bad at the end of time.  The sheep are the good people who gave food to the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked and visited the sick and the prisoner.   On the other hand, the goats are those people who have failed to do them.  In surprise, Christ would reveal his presence in the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and prisoner.   
         
       How will God judge us? Certainly not by the standard of the world.   The way of the world is success which is measured by wealth and power in the glorification of the ego.  We can call it the “way of the goat”!   On the other hand “the way of the sheep” is going out of the self in serving the poorest of God who are the unwanted, the marginalized, the oppressed and the poor. Jesus incarnates himself again through them in the most unexpected ways.  In fact, divinity is camouflaged by the most unlikely persons whom we ignore and abhor. That is why oftentimes we missed many precious moments of potential encounter with God.
           
      At the end we will be judged not by our faith but how we are able to translate that faith into concrete acts of good works in fostering the dignity of those who may not even look like Christ.   Our love of God should find its channel through practical acts of charity done to the least, the last and the lowest.  Then we will hear God telling us “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you…”
        
       Just like in the gospel, we will be judged according to our failure or good works towards God who is present amongst the un-godly.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

TIME, TALENTS, TREASURE




What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 4:7) The liturgy this Sunday reminds us about stewardship.  God in his super-generosity has given each one of us with different talents, some are given more, some are given less depending on the mission of the individual.  It does not matter whether we have one, two or five talents but the proper disposition why God has entrusted them to us.   

In the innate fecundity of the human mind, our history  has produced outstanding people in the fields of science, medicine, mathematics, literature, politics, etc. who, through their contributions, gave us a better world to live in.  In the Virtual Revolution of the internet, there are visionaries who changed the world through their contributions: Tim Berners-Lee who founded the world wide web (www), Mark Zuckerberg who founded the Facebook, Sergey Brin and Larry Page who founded Google, Peter Thiel who founded Paypal, to name a few.  They are some of the icons of technology because they did not just change the world but most especially the way we live now, for the better.  Certainly they took up their talents and with their innovations and creativity, they gave them back to the world so that we can have free access to information, connect with other people and make life easier.

In time when evil seemed to triumph and when people stopped to dream and hope was a blurred reality, there were exceptional individuals that changed the world.  Irena Sendler a Polish social worker who defiled the Nazis by smuggling some 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and saved those children during the Holocaust; Oskar Schindler a German industrialist who saved 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust by employing them as workers in his factory; John Rabe a German industrialist who sheltered 200,000 Chinese saving them from the Japanese massacre in Nanking China.  They are outstanding examples of revolutionaries who offered their talents to humanity; true icons of selfless giving in a world that only knew the self-absorption and scandalizing egoism.  


When we listen to the parable, we acknowledge first of all God, the giver of all gifts, who in in his super-generosity has given us our being, our doing and our having.  These all came as God’s gifts to us in packaged in time, talents and treasures.  Because they are gifts, they are meant to be shared.  First we have to acknowledge the talents given to us by God. Secondly, we develop them through diligent practice and hone them with the aid of tools like education and proper training.  Thirdly, we offer them to the world in form of service so that others may live well and better.  

True wealth are not the things that we acquire and keep but rather those which we have given and shared to enrich other people.   We don’t need to be like Steve Jobbs, Oskar Schindler, Irena Sendler nor John Rabe in giving our own contribution to the world in the grand scale of things;  we can be visionaries and silent revolutionaries through our own little ways in making this world a better place to live in.  

  


Saturday, November 8, 2014

ECCLESIA SEMPER REFORMANDA


        FEAST OF THE DEDICATION OF THE LATERAN BASILICA 


The 32nd Sunday this year falls on the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica which is the mother church of Christendom.  There are four major basilicas in the world which are all found in Rome:  St. Peter’s, St. Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls and the Lateran.  All the other basilicas distributed around the world are called minor basilicas.  The Lateran Basilica which is also known as St. John the Lateran is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. This basilica contains two of the most important relics in the Church namely the skulls of Sts. Peter and Paul placed on top of the main altar of the basilica.  It holds the primacy of importance over all other churches in the world, being the Cathedral of Rome which in simple terms is the church of the pope. 
       
Today we meditate on the Cleansing of the Temple  in the gospel of St. John.  The Temple of Jerusalem, built by Herod was also called the “Second Temple” and was  considered the most beautiful building in the world during that time.  The temple was the centre of the Jewish religious life being the locus of the sacrificial offerings of the Jews.  At the centre of the temple was the “Holy of holies” which was a room that contained the most important Jewish artefact: the Ark of the Covenant which housed the two tablets of the Ten Commandments.  
       
Why did Jesus cleanse the temple?   The cleansing was more than revolutionary; it was revelatory!   It revealed the cancerous state of Judaism represented by the woundedness of the temple system that refused to heal.  Because of the law that required every adult male (who lived within the 10-kilometer radius around the temple) to do an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the temple became the centre of the sacrificial life of the Jews.  The temple had a complex business system which was controlled by the Jewish priests.  Instead of carrying the animals for kilometres, it was more convenient to just buy them in the temple.  The price of the animals was controlled by the priests.  Before one could buy the animals, he had to change the coin bearing the face of Caesar with the temple coin which was the accepted currency in the temple.  The rate of the “currency exchange” was again controlled by the priests.   With this lucrative temple business, sacrificing animals in the temple became an extreme burden for the Jews.  It was a concrete example when religion is used to enslave believers by the self-serving machination of its religious leaders.  It nullified the very act of sacrificing animals which became an abomination in the sight of God when the poor sacrificed their lives in the altar of greed and self-absorption.  “Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.”
       
It was also revelatory because when the earthly temple failed its purpose to bear the presence of the Divine, God himself became the temple in the person of Jesus Christ.  But the old temple had to be destroyed to give way to the new temple not made of human hands.    The new temple, now the Body of Christ, as was the Temple of Jerusalem, always needs cleansing (Ecclesia semper reformanda).  She requires a constant slashing of her excesses and freedom from self-absorbing leaders in order to be the true dwelling place of the Father and the Holy Spirit.  We are not just talking here about the Catholic Church but also the temple of our bodies as being reminded of us by St. Paul in the Second Reading;  "Do you know that you are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you...."

Prayer:                
Slash me, o God me from the excesses that shackle me; free me from the monsters that continuously enslave me; take me away from the self-absorbing abyss that engulfs me!  Un-self me of everything non-divine and lead me to the true temple in the very heart of my being.  There I shall worship and love you.  Amen!