Month: August 2014

To Follow Jesus

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It has been nearly four months ago when eight of us received the Good Shepherd Cross. The cross is an insignia given to Salesians who have embraced the Salesian life forever.

More than a decoration nor a sign that makes a Salesian proud of his standing in the congregation, the cross has a pedagogic significance. It reminds the one who wears it to imitate Jesus, the Good Shepherd and to take heart the words of Don Bosco carefully scribbled on the reverse side of the cross: “Learn to make yourself loved.

This is my motivation why I have striven to wear my cross always. More than to announce to people that I am a religious, the cross I wear reminds me of the vows I profess and that since I belong to Christ, I ought to behave likewise.

Our Gospel this Sunday speaks of Jesus’ nagging reminder that more than wearing the cross as a manifestation of our following Him, He demands that we ought to take it up and follow Him.

The Word in other words

After securing from His disciples the first explicit profession of faith in Him as Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20), He tells them for the first time of His coming passion: “He must … suffer … and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

This did not sit well with Peter. After all, Peter had thought that Jesus would be a victor and lead them all to glory; as such, suffering should not be part of the picture.

Impulsively, Peter began to lecture Him: “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.

I can imagine that Peter’s profound concern must have consoled Jesus. However, He quickly dismissed such feeling since He had already understood and embraced His mission. He knew perfectly well that suffering is the only path to carry it out.

And so, he tells Peter “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.

Peter, who was just lavished with extravagant praises, is now addressed as Satan.

This must have been a perfect opportunity for Jesus to deliver this oft-quoted injuction on discipleship: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Jesus challenged those who aspire to follow Him to carry their crosses. But we realize that Jesus did more than this since after He carried it, He was crucified on it.

And while He was hanging on it, He breathed His last.

This, He did for our sake. But He did not ask us to go this far.

We’re merely asked to ‘deny ourselves and take up our cross.’

Two thousand years after He carried His cross, this question stares me at the face: How does He expect us to lift ours?

In an instant, I think of the Christians suffering in Iraq and Syria and even in other parts of the globe because of their faith. A consequence of having stood by their faith is they are persecuted because of it: women raped, babies killed, young people killed en masse, the lis is graphically inifite. That is their way of lifting up their cross.

But then again, when we reach out to persons we are not comfortable with, that, too, is our way of lifting up our cross. Likewise, when we say hello to people who make our stomach turn in just by seeing them, that, too is a way of lifting up the cross.

In our moral theology class last week, our teacher called our attention to the a terse summary of the beatitudes: it is a paradox. The beatitudes are contradictions.

Indeed, Christians are contradictions. They appear to signal the coming of the Kingdom. They do not make themselves too comfortable here because they very well know that they are mere transients; that earthly sojourn is, well, just that a sojourn. It is not meant to last forever.

Christianity is called a religion of the book, but more properly, it is called a religion of a “Person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God, to whom the words in the church’s book (the Bible) bear witness” (Harrington, 2005).

We follow Christ. And as such, we deny ourselves, we lift our crosses.

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Catholic Lay Faithful: Heroes and Saints … No Less!

The Catholic Church in the Philippines, gearing up for its 500 years of presence in the largest Catholic nation in the Asian continent, marked one of its highlights in devoting this year to the lay people thru a congress meant to train the limelight on them in the task of building the Church.

Photo by Br. Jerome Quinto, SDB

 

The event was held in PhilSports Arena in Pasig City last August 21, and drew at least 10,000 participants from various schools, parishes and dioceses of the Philippines.

The Mass was concelebrated by a number of priests and five bishops. Archbishop Soc Villegas, president of the Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, gave a thought-provoking homily about the role of the lay people in the Church, that is, not to beautify the church, but to sanctify the world they live in through their Christian witnessing.Three leaders of big communities of lay people served as main speakers: Bo Sanchez of the Light of Jesus community, Mike Velarde of El Shaddai movement and Frank Padilla of the Couples for Christ-Foundations for Life (CFC-FFL).

In between their talks were short reflections given by various lay people active in the tasks of evangelization and parish ministry.

The long-day reflection showed the vibrant lay people who make up the majority of the Church in the Philippines.

At the helm of this big event is a Salesian priest, Fr. Francis Gustilo, who served as dean of Don Bosco Center of Studies and teaches theology subjects in the same institute and served as a member of the Rome-based International Theological Commission.



 

Who is Jesus for you?

When I was in elementary, slumbooks proliferated. Questions like “favorite color,” “favorite movie,” “favorite book,” “most memorable vacation,” “most hated teacher,” abound; even one’s “first kiss” is asked considering that we still have to reach our teen years.

Seeing it from the hindsight, slumnotes allow our young selves to chew, in bitesize portions, the grand question “who are you?”

The Word in other words

Caesarea Philippi was not a Jewish territory. In fact, it was famous for a shrine dedicated to the pagan Greek Pan. It is in this setting that Jesus asks his disciples who the people say that He is. Quickly, varied answers came rushing in: “John the Baptist,” “Elijah,” “Jeremiah,” while others who could not come up with a name to whom they could associate Him simply answered “one of the prophets.”

Jesus was pleased. But He needed to ask another question in order to prove something. This time around the question was tougher, it demands a more personal answer: Who do you say that I am?

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The question that haunts us and nags our attention: 'Who is Jesus?' Graphics by Br Paul Dungca, SDB

There must have been a hush of silence. One disciple elbows another, nudging him to venture an answer. However, they must be expecting someone to speak for the group. Peter, the self-styled leader of the band, attempts a solution: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The laughing stock of the gospel (Matthew 14:22-33) proclaimed two Sundays ago became the hero this time. Jesus was profuse in His praise of Peter. He
does not only lavish compliments on Peter, Jesus appoints him as the leader, the rock on whom He will build the Church.

Who is Jesus?

I realized that thrown to mortals like us, this question  ferrets out as many varied answers as possible. The rejoinders we come up with, project the image  of Jesus within us: a brother,  friend, companion, teacher, savior, redeemer, teacher, master, guide … the list is infinite! 

However, some questions do not nag us for answers. At times, we simply have to wonder why they are being asked for they allow us to see the intelligence of the inquirer than to size up the one the question is thrown to.

Questions allow us to peep inside to the innermost core of the one asking, without us being demanded to say something wise and profound; we are perhaps asked to simply listen.

I recall, for one, the question which God asked Adam and Eve after they succumbed  the first human couple “Where are you?”  Which was not just simply asking for their geographic location, but nags them to reflect about their state vis-a-vis God.

This question of Jesus to Peter falls into that category. It asks  us to consider why Jesus–who has cured illnesses, resurrected deceased people, preached the Word mightily–is asking this question. 

Who is Jesus for  you? With the help of the same Spirit who whispered Peter the profound answer, perhaps we could come up with an acceptable picture of Jesus; or probably, the wisdom to reflect on the question itself so that we could grow further in our understandng of the God of love in the midst of pain, brokenness and sin.  
 

Have Faith

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A SPOONFUL OF MORSEL: This is what awaits us if we just heed the example of the woman. Graphics by Br. Paul Dungca, SDB

 Tyre and Sidon belong to a region in Israel which is inhabited by non-Jews. From this district, a woman came to Jesus and started shouting at Him “Take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.”

Jesus was silent.

The shrieking voice of the woman must have gotten on the nerves of His disciples that they themselves went to Jesus and pleaded to Him to give what she wants. But Jesus was firm, and for a reason: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.”

Earlier (that is, in Matthew 10:5-15) he sent his disciples for ministry, instructing them to go “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and forbidding them to “go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town.”

But the woman pleaded, knelt at his feet, “Lord,” she said “help me.”  He replied, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.”

The woman was not asking for a ‘full meal,’ she was merely begging for some ‘scraps.’ She knew the situation and she didn’t need to be reminded: There is a great abyss that separates Jews from Gentiles, even if they are just within arm’s reach.

Limitless love, unfathomable faith

Jesus may be ultimately Divine, but He’s perfectly Human, too. His being in a human body situates Him in a human context bound by cultural and societal norms.  In this Matthean pericope, we note that he has a clear bias: to search for the lost sheep of Israel.

First, Jesus smashed the boundaries which separate a Jew from a non-Jew. He went beyond the prejudices of his society, and perhaps, even his personal bias as well. He did exactly what she asked.

Here we see the unlimited love of God for everyone. While it is true that at times, we see that certain individuals appear more blessed than the rest, God’s grace silently does its work which transcends sex, geography and race. God’s essence is love, not the cheap brand. It’s genuine, and only a love that is genuine knows no bounds.

Second, the woman had great faith in Jesus.

Jesus was preceded by His reputation. He’s known as a miracle worker, not just in Galilee, his immediate environs, but also in regions which are populated by gentiles. The mother knew that Jesus could help her daughter find healing; she also knew that Jesus was a Jew, and she is a gentile. To approach Jesus, is to make herself vulnerable to be rejected. But she weighed her options: her faith weighs heavier than her fear of rejection.

Jesus was her only hope, and she realized that she badly needed this cure for her child. She cannot afford a ‘no’ for an answer.  And so, she exhibited a brand of faith that is not just a mere lip service, she wowed Jesus by manifesting not just a faith which puts her knees to kiss the ground, but also, that kind of faith which makes her act according to how Jesus wills.

At the end, we are told that Jesus does not only recognize the faith of the woman, he marvels at her faith, and finally, does what she asks. Her risking it of paid off. Her daughter’s good health returned.

Do we want to experience God’s unlimited love? Let’s do what that woman did: have faith.

“It’s me … Come”

One of the beautiful places in the Philippines is the Apo Island in Dumaguete. Okay, let me qualify this. The island is beautiful, but its lot submerged underneath the sea is awesome. I found myself snorkeling there some six years ago and the experience is simply … breathless.

Not because I lacked oxygen, I guess also because of it, but primarily because of the beauty which stunned me when I plunged underwater. It was a veritable paradise under the sea, a heaven submerged under clear heraldic deep water.

In my own estimation, it’s not exaggerated to say that the beauty of the sea is overwhelming even without the schools of fish that swim with me. The exquisite coral formation put me in awe and made me cognizant of colors which I did not even imagine existed.

Flipping back my journal on 27 April 2008, I found this entry:

The island was really a paradise. God is such a masterful artist and a superb creator. Even under the sea, he was able to plant so much beauty and even sustain it … The only thing that made it a little disappointing is that I was not able to take a photo of it. But Fr. Wilbert (our socius) is right, what took place under the water is such a private moment between God and me.

The Word in other words

This Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 14:22-33) features Jesus’ disciples themselves who had some up-close-and-personal encounter with nature worth telling about. But as a stark contrast from my experience, theirs is neither calming nor breathtaking, rather, it features a facet of nature that accentuates its power and wrath more than its magnificence.

The Gospel writer had it that violent winds and wild waves visited the disciples in the middle of the sea; it rocked their boat. When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they were terrified that they cried out in fear ‘It is a ghost!’

Promptly, Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It’s me! Don’t be afraid.’

Peter, epitomized by the evangelist St. Matthew to be the leader of the pack, answered in behalf of the group, ‘Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’  Jesus tersely said “Come.” Peter did as told; He got out of the boat and started to walk to Jesus across the water.

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Jesus walks on the water, and Peter, too! Graphics by Br Paul Dungca, SDB

That gallantry—that bold and impassioned devotion to the Master—we have to give it to Peter. He knew how to bask in on the spotlight. And he must have known that this would be one episode which he’d shine the brightest, or so he thought.

Noticing the wind, he was frightened and began to sink. “Lord,” he cried, “save me!”

Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. “You have so little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

The wind died when both of them got into the boat. While the rest of the disciples who were in the boat bowed down before Jesus and said, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

And if my imagination serves me right, Peter—the fisherman—became their laughing stock.

It is Jesus

But who cannot not relate with Peter? Many times, when we encounter fear, focus and attention go down the drain. Before it, we are helpless. It consumes us. In that boat scene, Peter’s fear got the better of him, slipping off in his mind the most important detail in that episode: Jesus was present.

Fr. Bernard Haring, a moral theologian, once asked what is the most important thing done in the sacrament of confession. One answered ‘penance!’ one fellow said ‘contrition’ and another one bellowed out ‘forgiveness!’ Haring responded ‘no,’ ‘no,’ and ‘no.’ The more acceptable answer was to come from one little girl who blurted out ‘It’s what Jesus does!’

The long accomplishments in Jesus’ resume qualifies Him to cast our fear away and to calm our restless hearts.

His simple deed of breaking five loaves of bread fed a multitude;
He turned water into superb wine;
He raised Lazarus, a little boy, a little girl back to life;
He cured the mother-in-law of Peter and also that man afflicted with paralysis;
He cast away demons, in fact, legion of them! Even before a few minutes of breathing His last,
He forgave that repentant thief. He ascended back to the Father.

And the list is infinite.

But what do these get to do with us? With a sense of trust, hope and faith, may we find the courage to surrender our fear and tell Jesus “Lord, please take charge.”  And like Peter, we are challenged, too, to be humble enough in accepting our limits, and say, “Lord, save me!”

And yet, we heard that even before he would be able to utter these, Jesus had already a ready response: ‘It’s me … come.’

Remember His deeds, Remember Him

This Multiplication of Loaves (Matthew 14:13-21) makes us recall the experience of the first feeding of the multitude that had once wandered in the desert (Exodus 16), for whom God rained down bread from heaven.

However, this only came about when people had started bugging Moses that they were already dying of hunger.

Hence, the marked difference between these two feedings is that in the presence of Jesus, food is already on its way even before the people start to feel the pangs of hunger.

When the disciples realize that a logistic problem is brewing since (1) it’s already night time, and that (2) they are in the wilderness and most importantly (3) feeding the multitude is going to be a nightmare. Hence, to prevent a looming crisis, those who were around Jesus thought of the most practical way to solve the problem: send home the crowds.

But Jesus is not buying the proposal; He who is called the ‘Emmanuel’ lives up to His name: He is with them. Sending the people away is a violation of this pact. He does not only feel with the people, He fills them up.

Earlier on, He saw the large crowd; He pitied them, and healed their sick. Consistent with that attitude, He told the disciples, ‘There is no need for them to go: give them something to eat yourselves.

I can just imagine how His disciples feel upon hearing this. Their proposed solution was not acceptable. The people are not going anywhere. The problem, now a real one, threateningly stares on their faces: food must be served, and benefactors are nowhere to be found.

The distraught disciples must have been flustered upon hearing this. But they did not have any choice, the Master had spoken.

Their thorough search, yielded a measly five loaves and two fish.

From a humble packed lunch to a fine feast! Photo by Br. James Aro, SDB Graphics by Br. Paul Dungca, SDB

But Jesus is steadfast, ‘Bring them here to me.

After the disciples did their part. It was now the turn of Jesus to do His. And boy, this Jesus’ act, like all the previous ones, goes beyond any measure. The looming crisis became an opportunity for a bold banquet. The problem is providential to prove God’s greatness.

The two fish and the five loaves went a long way to fill up over five thousand individuals who shared in that meal.

The episode concludes with a happy note: ‘They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps left over, twelve baskets full.’

The crowd followed Jesus because He healed them and just what like this episode narrates, He could even nourish hunger in epic proportions.

Whereupon Jesus “took, thanked, broke, and gave” in this episode of the multiplication of loaves we are invited to look forward to that sublime event of His last supper (Matthew 20) where He utters again these verbs, and even immortalize them, as He commands us to do this to remember Him.

We remember His act of healing so that when we health is nowhere to be found, fear and uncertainty have no place in our hearts as we pin our hope in Him: He will heal our sickness.

We remember His strong desire to be with us so that even when we are all by ourselves, all gloomy and hopeless, we know that He is with us.

We remember His act of generosity, so that when we go hungry, we remember that there were twelve-baskets of left overs: He will never get tire in feeding us.

The list of reminiscing goes on and on, but I have to conclude somewhere; I am going to end here.

And so, finally, we remember that He commanded us to remember His deeds; but surely, this is not an end itself: We remember all these in order that we may remember Him.