Jan 25, 2020

Disentangle


Christ's very own words we hear in the Sunday Gospel should waken us up. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand." This is not a simple warning. It's a fact. Repentance is not only to acknowledge our individual wrongdoings, our sins. It's also an invitation to define our lives and our relationships with God and the world from a new and bigger perspective. 


If the kingdom of heaven is close at hand, that does not mean that we are near the end of the world. Instead, Christ tells us, as he did the fishermen at the harbor, to disentangle ourselves from their net. They were being called to begin new lives, not as fishermen, but as shepherds. When you’ve lived all your life doing one thing, thinking one way, programmed, conditioned in a way, to think and act in a new way takes courage. Breaking free from the net demands courage! 


As useful as the net is, for work, for gaining insight, information and communication, a net, in whatever form it takes, is ultimately designed to capture and even trap. God's Kingdom of heaven, something new is, instead, offered - the promise of pure freedom, truth, healing and peace for tired minds, bodies and souls. Is that not what we call out for every day in the Lord's prayer - "Thy Kingdom come.... on earth, as it is in heaven".  


What is your vision of yourself here and now? Do you want social media, liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional, right or left, to define you? Is it, I want to be on earth now, as I would be in heaven. What is your vision of marriage? I want my marriage to be on earth now as it would be in heaven. What is your vision of relationships? I want my relationships to be on earth now as it would be in heaven. What is the purpose of your work? It has the same purpose now on earth as it would be in heaven. What is your vision of the parish, of the Church? I want this church to be on earth as it would be in heaven. What vision do we want for our nation? We want our nation to be on this earth as it would be heaven! But be careful! We do not define the Kingdom of Heaven according to our own wants. Instead, it is Christ himself who defines the kingdom of God on earth. We do not define our future. Christ does, through his death and resurrection. 


On earth as it is in heaven always begins at this altar, in this Eucharist - God’s gifts of bread and wine from his earthly kingdom lead and point the way to what will finally happen to all creation, to be transubstantiated, changed into the reality of the kingdom of heaven, the resurrected Jesus Christ, God with us. He belongs to this earth as he belongs to heaven. If we can see that, our vision changes and we realize already that heaven and earth are full of his glory. This is the basis of Christian hope.


Christ is on the march again. As he passes you by, regardless of where you are in life, he calls out to you, “Follow me”. Let us pray for the courage to do so heroically, leaving behind the old, worn out recycled definitions of living life in a survival mode, so that bit by bit and with God’s grace, united to the power of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, we can help complete God’s project on earth it is in heaven - to bring to each man, woman and child, the fullness of life both now and forever. 

Jan 19, 2020

Lion Lamb



When Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan, the ripples of that event gently moved out in every direction, slowly gathering up speed, becoming larger and larger until they would become an immense outpouring of God's grace for all humanity, impacting the whole world. Who could have predicted that the pouring of water over someone in particular would generate a wave of cosmic magnitude? In the Gospel, John the Baptist now becomes intensely aware of the unpredictability of God's grace manifested and unleashed in Jesus of Nazareth. The natural is raised to the heights of the supernatural.

John now sees his cousin Jesus from a new perspective, in a new spirit, which takes him by surprise. This is why John says, “I did not know him”. John had known Jesus from a family perspective, a familiarly which was natural. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, John now recognizes the true identity of his cousin. He can no longer look at him simply as an ordinary man. He sees Jesus as the Son of God and in doing so John would see the long-awaited messiah in a new way.

Far from being, what many expected, a warrior messiah who would defeat the Romans, John sees Jesus not as a lion, but rather as a Lamb - the Passover lamb who would become vulnerable to the point of being slaughtered and in being so, would take away the sins of the world.

It is unlikely John the Baptist knew how Jesus would accomplish this. All John can possibly know, is that his own role in all of this is not to figure out the details but rather to point others to Jesus, that’s all. And that is enough.

In a certain sense, we too must always be open to living life with a sense of mystery – that in truth, we do not know it all, nor should we presume that we have all the answers. Living our lives with a sense of the mystery of God allows us to trust in His way and to be humble before Him. The reason, we gather here every Sunday, is not to read the Bible as if it were an answer book to all our questions.  We can read it and study the scriptures anytime.

More so, we are here to encounter the mystery of God’s Word, not paper and ink, but in the glorified flesh and blood of Christ. If we allow ourselves to be lifted high by God's grace and do so with faith in Christ, then in this Holy Eucharist, like John the Baptist, we will no longer see what is familiar, we will behold no longer natural bread or wine, but the very supernatural presence of the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus, el Cordero de Dios, que quita el pecado del mundo. Por Cristo y con El somos capaces, y es nuestro deber, de vencer el pecado cada dia y construir el Reino de Dios y su justicia en la tierra de los humanos.

Jan 13, 2020

Holy H2O

Ritual And Reality...  

When we talk about the baptism of the Lord, what immediately comes to mind is a church baptism – typically a baby, parents and godparents. 

The word baptism hears “to dip, immerse in water”. When St. John was baptizing people in the river, he was using the water as a symbol of cleansing. Those willing to leave behind their old lives, repenting of their offenses against God, could now formally recommit themselves to God and they could “see” their sins being washed away down stream.  No, of course, they did not literally “see” their sins floating away down the river or dissolving in the water.  But the ritual was very important.  

Rituals seek to communicate what sometimes words cannot. We remember the event of a ritual. It helps us place something that is personally important for our interior lives, within the timeframe and history of our public life. 

For any ritual to be authentic, what is being communicated visibly must be genuinely happening invisibly within our heart and souls.  That’s the difference between a ritual and a performance.  In a simple performance, we learn our lines, we understand our role and do what we are expected. And after the performance is over we go back to the same type of life we were living before the play.  

However, when we perform a ritual, we seek to express publicly through our actions, what is happening invisibly to our souls. Whether we can understand it or not, our senses tell us that the ritual communicates something that is authentic, meaningful, sacred.

Christ was sinless. He did not need to have his sins washed away. He didn't have any.  Why then was be baptized? Did he just go through all the motions? Was it just a performance? No.

Consider the crowds of people who came to the waters seeking to turn away from sin and wanting to express this by having their sins symbolically washed away.  Consider that this was taking place in the desert, and that the villages upstream were using this river for water, for washing, for laundry and also for waste disposal.  Now you are downstream. What color would that water be when it reached the desert? How clean would it be?  Now consider that this water was being used to symbolically wash away sins. Not only at this stage was the river unhygienic, but also because John was using it to baptize, the water was symbolically polluted with sins, the sins of the whole world.

Now consider what Christ does. The Son of God, the embodiment of all purity and innocence, freely steps into, immerses himself into the dark and murky waters of our sins – he is literally “up to his neck in it!”.   In order to save us from our sins, Christ dives into the deadly waters to free us, to takes upon himself all the sins of the world, so that he would make safe the waters for us and we can emerge alive.

Unlike our own baptism which, when you think about it, is accomplished almost in an instant – we could say it happened in a “splash”, Christ’s baptism is a tsunami - it’s powerful, it generates waves that spill out in every direction through time and history, into the past, the present and to the future and beyond – a shockwave that rattles even heaven itself!

A Christian is someone who has been immersed with Christ into his life, death and resurrection. This is ritually communicated through our baptism.  But the waters of baptism can become stagnant and foul.  For this reason, when we turn back to God, our heavenly Father sends his Holy Spirit to breath upon the dark and deep waters of our souls, stirring our heart to repentance.  Through the sacrament of Confession, Christ in his love and mercy, filters out our sins and infuses oxygen once again into the waters of our baptism.


Keep the waters of baptism fresh, clean and full of life.  Express this with the simple ritual of blessing yourself with holy water every time you enter the church.  Fill up a bottle with holy water from the baptismal font and mark it as such. Every time you feel vulnerable to sin use it.  Have it close by when you are in danger. Bless yourself with it before you close your eyes into the darkness of sleep.  

Water is the most natural of all the elements, used by God himself in a ritual to communicate the most supernatural gift he offers us, the cleansing of our sins and the abundance of life in abundance. With God’s grace, let us keep this precious and life-giving gift fresh in our lives, free from the pollution of sin and safe from the decay of death and darkness.

Jan 4, 2020

Follow that Star



At the center of the Lord’s Prayer, in the “Our Father” as we commonly call it, one line connects everything - everything that exists. That one line is “on earth as it is in heaven”.

Two thousand years ago, when Jesus was born and before he grew up to teach us the words of this prayer, the ancient people from the East understood this. Whatever happens in the heavens is reflected on the earth - “on earth as it is in heaven.” During a time when there was no city lights, air pollution, nighttime flights or communication satellites, they looked into the night sky with wonder and amazement, tracing invisible lines between stars, linking them together into patterns and shapes they could recognize as points of reference. 

On the other side of the heavens, today an astronaut looking down upon the darkness of the earth sees all our artificial light clustered around towns and cities. From the space shuttle looking down upon the earth at night, you can likewise identify countries, capitals, coastlines and oceans by the glowing light we emit by our metropolitan cities and vast networks of roads and highways. But we do not see the light “on earth as it is in heaven”. 

When the ancient civilizations looked out from the darkness of the earth, they beheld all of God’s creation in all its purity and harmony, its order and predictability, its beauty and its majesty. And when they noticed something different, an anomaly, something that wasn’t there before, this new point of reference, they knew that this new light in heaven would reflect a new point of reference on the earth. A new light shone out from heaven for the whole world to see. A new reference point for all humanity would exist at a particular point, at a particular place, at a particular time on earth as it was communicated by heaven. 

The Magi, the “three wise men”, or the “three kings from the orient”, as we now call them, only after they allowed an event in heaven to communicate to them, did they turn their attention to an event that was likewise occurring on the earth. By triangulating the heavens and the earth to the Holy Scriptures of the Chosen People, they are eventually able to make their way to Bethlehem and worship God enfleshed as a baby, as they had worshiped God clothed in the immensity of the cosmos. 

Although there are countless meditations we can make on the event we hear spoken to us through today’s gospel, (I have listed ten of them on the previous blog entry), based on these present reflections, what can we take away today in the light of this Christmas Mass of the Epiphany?

The starting point of any reflection on how God communicates to us as the wise men have shown us, begins by taking our gaze away from the artificial light produced by our own inventions, be it as grand as New York at night or the light emitted from the screen of our cell phones or computers. Look out beyond the horizon of the earth towards the heavens, to the immensity of God’s entire creation. Rather than trying to capture beauty through a lense to be uploaded to an artificial cloud and held together by a network of electronic signals, stop regularly, straighten your neck and look up, see and take in through the gift of your natural senses, all the natural wonders of the world and all creation.

Reflect on what God is saying, communicating to us through his language of light and darkness, of shapes and patterns, of movement and sounds, what is visible and what is invisible to us. 

Then bring it all together into what we do here and now in this sacred place, the light of candles, the clouds of incense, the pattern of movements, the listening of harmonies, the shapes of images, the color of language, the tenderness of touch, the hint of aromas. 

This is not trying to make sense of chaos. There is no mixed signals here. In the same way as we have heard in the gospel “And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was”. Everything in creation leads us to this actual place of reference where God is to be found. Through the sacrament of the Eucharist His dwelling place is here among us on earth as he is in heaven. 

May our sacramental encounter with Christ, give glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.

Interstellar


The event described in the Gospel underscores the far-reaching effects of God's grace rippling out in every direction from that one central event that began in Bethlehem with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Like the many points that shine out from a star, tfollowing ten points (or some of them) are worth some reflection. Each one of them could be expanded into various homilies. However, the final point might serve as the one simple premise, the "real homily" I believe everything must first be built upon. To that end, I hope there's something for everyone!

1.  With the direct intervention of God in human history, nature herself cannot remain silent. The star announced the birth of Christ. An eclipse of the sun and an earthquake proclaimed his death. A garden welcomes his resurrection. God speaks to us through nature and its elements. This could be a homily on our respect for God's creation.

2. As nature likewise groans for salvation, so does all humanity. As a people who live in darkness longs for daylight, the Epiphany of the Lord fills us with hope and optimism that a new day dawns for humanity. This could be a homily on the aspirations for justice and freedom and the Herods of our day who oppose it.

3. We are very familiar with the picture postcard of the three wise men and the iconic gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  This could be a homily on the nature of Christ as King, as God, as the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the of the world.

4.  The mysterious magi, who they actually were, what lands did they really come from? Their arrival on the scene of the birth of Jesus reveals the countless multitudes of peoples, nations, and cultures searching for God. This could be a homily on multiculturalism and universal salvation.

5.  The events of the Epiphany demonstrate that the chief priests and scribes knew the Hebrew Scriptures inside out, even concerning the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. But they are unmoved, and the birth of Christ seemed uninteresting to them. Unlike the Magi, they missed the clues and obvious hints God had prepared them for. This could be a homily discerning the signs of the times.

6.  We are likewise presented with the theatrics of Herod who pretends to want to find Christ so he can pay tribute to the newborn Messiah. This could be a homily on the dangers of false devotion and trying to appear to be holy but instead wanting to keep everything the status quo.

7.  What the Magi found at the end of their journey following the star was no doubt a surprise they did not anticipate nor could they have predicted. This could be a homily on the need to journey outside our comfort zones and to be open to the God of surprises.

8.  When the Wise Men encountered the Christ-child and were later warned that Herod was out to destroy the newborn, they could have offered to take the holy family back with them to their own kingdoms, giving them protection and offering the child a place in their best schools of the orient. This could be a homily on how God's ways are not necessarily our ways, despite our best intentions and objectives.

9.  The Gospel story of the Epiphany is full of biblical codes and prophecies, astronomical readings and calculations.  As interesting as it all is, the goal of our Christian Faith is not to provide quick answers and remedies, or scientific proofs or explanations. This could be a homily on the relationship between faith and reason.

10.  Finally, when the Magi arrived in God's little house, what did they see and experience there and then? They saw a helpless but adorable newborn baby lifted up out of the rags by an exhausted virgin mother and a young nervous husband. The Wise Men could only but gaze in wonderment, even joyful astonishment. They instinctively bowed to the ground in profound and humble adoration - no questions asked.  

And now the "real" point of the homily in the context of the Eucharist!

Before we extrapolate and theorize the theological, social and global consequences of the manifestation of Christ to the world, maybe it is worth reflecting that the kings of the orient and shepherds of Bethlehem have in common, that is, what the intellectual and the uneducated, the rich and the poor, the employer and the employee, the native and the foreigner, have in common - amazement that God's plan of salvation very simple - it's right before our eyes. Let's not complicate it too much. 

Every Sunday we are allowed to come face to face with the Son of God lifted up for adoration from the bedrock of an altar through the veil of the Eucharist. His divine personality is hidden from us behind the simple and unassuming "garments" of bread and wine, and after Mass, secured in our midst within the protective embrace of a loving tabernacle, a golden manger. Likewise, we too bow to the ground, in profound and humble adoration - no questions asked - only prayers and whispers of thanksgiving and petition.
 
Instead, in quiet amazement of how easy it is for the humble and the unassuming, and how difficult it is for the proud and arrogant, let's start off together - on bended knee before God's presence in response to the invitation, "O Come let us adore Him!"

Mental Fatigue

The Sunday Gospel (30th Week in Ordinary Time) once again reminds us of Christ’s instruction to Love the Lord our God with everything we hav...