Friday, February 26, 2010

We are on our way home ... but not yet

Second Sunday of Lent Year C

There was a missionary priest who after having spent 20 years in Africa returns to his hometown. He had sent letters ahead of his return to old friends hoping to meet up with some of them. So, it came as a great disappointment when he arrived at the bus terminal of his little hometown to find no one waiting for him. As he began to walk to the parish church, he was puzzled to see a great crowd of people gathered around a big Mercedes Benz parked across the road. Some of the young girls were screaming in excitement. After inquiring with a passerby, he discovered that his hometown had another homecoming, it was Mrs. Lim’s son who had gone to Hong Kong and became a famous singer.

As he sat down on a bench in the park, the priest began to complain to God. “I’ve slogged for you these past 20 years, I’ve risked my life attending to the sick, I’ve given up everything to follow your call to Africa. And now that I’ve arrived “home,” is this repayment that I get? There was silence on the other side. Then God spoke: “Who ever told you were “home.”

What does it mean to be really home – to have really arrived at our final destination? Is this life all there is to it or is there something more? From young, we have been taught in catechism that our final destination is heaven, where we will be with God for ever. But over the years, we may have developed some doubts as to heaven’s existence or we may begin to doubt that we will be able to enjoy this beautiful paradise.

We must never deceive ourselves into thinking that this world is a permanent place, we must never deceive ourselves to think that we can prolong life without death. This life is good but it isn’t our final home. Today many people do not want to talk about death, they do not want to think about death. Its’ ‘pantang.’ We try ways and means to lengthen our lives – we acquire wealth, property, power – forgetting that we can never bring any of these things into the next life. The three disciples who followed Jesus up the mountain wanted to capture the event of Jesus’ transfiguration for eternity – they wanted to build tents for all of them. But Jesus refuses to allow them to remain at this level. The transfiguration points to Jesus’ resurrection and the glory of heaven, but it wasn’t the resurrection nor heaven. If Jesus had remained on the mountain he would be prevented from fulfilling his mission to bring about mankind’s salvation through his suffering, death and resurrection.

Similarly if we put our confidence only in the present life as if it was permanent, we would not be able to appreciate and receive the eternal life promised to each us. And the meaning of ‘eternal life’ is to know God, to love him and be with him for all eternity. God doesn’t promise any of us a long life but God promises us eternal life.

This understanding of eternal life will help us to understand that heaven isn’t a place. The movies and paintings give us a very wrong picture about heaven – its above the clouds, people are given wings, everyone is dressed in white. We really do not know how heaven looks like. What we can say about heaven is that we will be able to see God face to face, we will able to face him in all honesty without having to hide behind our fears and anxieties. In heaven, our eyes, our attention can only be on God alone because he is the fulfillment of our every hope, dream and desire.

We pray during today’s mass that we will be able to let go of our earthly securities, e.g. our riches, our health, our property, our power, and be like Abraham who was prepared to leave everything even in the time of his old age and follow God’s call.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

'Nobody' in the eyes of men, but 'Somebody' in the eyes of God

First Sunday of Lent Year C

What are the criteria of a successful man? The answer seems obvious – having money, lots of money, power and popularity. No one will give you a second look if you are poor, weak, or unpopular. Yes? No?

Today’s gospel goes against this very trend of thinking. Jesus is also confronted by these 3 temptations – possessions, power and popularity. The temptation to change the stones into bread is the temptation to place one’s trust in riches, possessions and objects. We may be tempted to feel that if we have lots of money or that we have acquired a very good education, we are then somebody important – others will look up to us.

In the second temptation, the devil tempts Jesus with power. This is a very powerful temptation – many of us are tempted to control our lives, to control organizations, to control other people. We are tempted to think that if we are in control then we would be somebody important.

The third temptation is the temptation to be popular. Jesus did perform miracles but never to show off or to make himself popular.

We see Jesus rejecting all these 3 temptations because none of them could take away the fact that he was the Son of God. Nothing could change that. He was indeed the Son of God and there was no need to prove it by putting his trust in riches, power and popularity. For Jesus, the foundation and core of his whole ministry and identity is the Father’s love for him. We find this in the story of his baptism by John the Baptist which immediately precedes today’s gospel story. In that story, when Jesus comes out from the water, he hears a voice from heaven that says: “You are my beloved son, my favor rests on you.” What a wonderful thing – to be totally dependent on this knowledge that God loves us no matter. God does not want nor need us to prove it through our achievements. We don’t need to prove our importance by acquiring riches, power and popularity. Being God’s sons and daughters is all that we would ever need.

This is the reason why Moses wanted to remind the Israelites of their history and their identity in the first reading – they were ‘nobodies’ – they were ‘slaves.’ But God gave them an identity- he saved them, gave them a land which they could call home and made them His people. Without God they had no identity, no freedom, no riches, no importance. Only with God was this all possible.

So it is with us today. Let us pray for the grace to resist these temptations of riches, power and popularity, knowing that they can never promise us eternal happiness. It is only in God that we shall find happiness and everlasting life. That is all that matters.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Blessings and Curses

Sixth Ordinary Sunday Year C

“Blessings and Curses” – this is the main theme for today’s readings. Everyone desires blessings. No one wants to be cursed. A blessing is supposed to be something that is for our good. A curse, on the other hand, is something evil wished upon us. A blessing usually brings joy whereas a curse is a cause for sorrow. So far the difference between blessings and curses seem simple enough. But the truth of the matter is that we often mistake a blessing for a curse and a curse for a blessing. We make this mistake because we have a narrow understanding of God and his plan for us. We often interpreted our will as the will of God. We may conclude that when we get what we want from God that should be blessing. It is when our request is refused and rejected by God that we often see as curse. This kind of reasoning is simplistic. In fact, it is this kind of reasoning that underlies superstitious beliefs.

Today, we are reminded by the readings that God is the point of reference. It is God who decides whether something is a blessing or a curse. Our limited knowledge and human limitations prevent us from truly appreciating what is a blessing from God and what constitutes a curse. A blessing in the eyes of God often comes in the disguise of a curse in the eyes of men. The gospel gives Luke’s account of the Beatitudes. Luke’s version is different from the 8 beatitudes that we are often familiar with in Matthew’s gospel. Luke lists down 4 beatitudes and 4 woes (curses). Jesus tells his disciples that happy are those who are poor, the hungry, those who weep and those who are hated and abused on account of him. To the non-Christian, all these categories seem be examples of people who have been cursed. How can a curse be seen as a blessing?

The first reading taken from the prophet Jeremiah may help us to understand the meaning of these beatitudes. The prophet Jeremiah tells us that “a blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord, with the Lord for his hope.” On the other hand, “a curse on the man who puts his trust in man, who relies on things of flesh, whose heart turns from the Lord.” The poor, the hungry, the grieving, and those who are persecuted for the sake of the Lord are people who put their trust in the Lord. They have no other forms of security. They cannot rely on their wealth for they have none. They cannot rely on food, possessions or even the comfort of friends and loved ones, for these too will disappear one day. They cannot rely on popularity because we are never in control of how people feel about us. Some days, we are liked by others. Other days, we are hated and despised. If we place our trust in our wealth, in power and in popularity, then we have cursed ourselves. God does not want to curse us. We have chosen to curse ourselves. We have placed our trusts on things that do not last. We have placed our trusts on things that we cannot bring with us to the next life. We have placed our trusts on things and made them our gods. We have forgotten to place our trust in God who alone can save us.

Being poor is not something which should be praised. In fact, the poor remind us that the wealth of our country is not properly distributed. There is something wrong and unjust if 80% of the wealth of the world is owned by just less than 20% of the population. It is a sign of selfishness and exploitation. Likewise, being rich is not something which is evil. There are many good people who are rich. But sometimes, wealth, power and popularity make us forget about God and others. What we need to remember here is that everyone has the duty to share their wealth with one another so that there will be no one who is lacking in anything. We must also learn to place our trust in God and not on our possessions and capabilities.

Let us pray in today’s mass that we will recognize the blessings which God intends for us. We may not get what we had prayed for. We may not be rich or beautiful or talented. All these are nothing when compared to God’s love for us. God always intend for our ultimate good. He gives us what we need and not what we merely want.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Disciples Take Risks!

Fifth Ordinary Sunday Year C

Many people are afraid of taking risks. It is much easier doing the things that are familiar than it is to do something which is new. Perhaps, what we really fear is failure. We fear that we will not be able to finish the projects which we have started. We fear that we will not get the results we desired. We fear that others will laugh at us for our stupidity. We fear that if we fail in this task, we would also fail for the rest of our lives.

Today, Jesus invites his disciples, he invites us, to take risks. He tells Peter in today’s gospel to “put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.” This instruction must be difficult for Peter to follow because he has already failed to catch any fish on his first try. After having failed before, we often are hesitant to try again. We become discourage. We try to avoid making the same mistakes again. We move on to other projects. In the case of Peter he chose to take the risk again. If he had not tried to put out his nets again, perhaps, Jesus would not have asked him to become his disciple. If Peter had not become a disciple of Jesus, he would not become our first Pope. If he had not been the first Pope, we may not have the Catholic Church as we know it today. All because Peter chose to take the risk.

One can never be a disciple of Christ, one can never be a true Christian unless one is prepared to take risks. Many of us are hesitant to commit ourselves to a particular project or responsibility because we fear failure. Often, I’ve invited people to take the challenge of becoming a catechists, a BEC coordinator or a leader in one thing or another. Many often decline. They give a variety of reasons. Some say that they have no time. Others feel that they have enough responsibilities. Some say that they do not have the necessary abilities. But, I believe that the real reason is the fear of failure.

Today, we are reminded by the readings that all of us are called to discipleship. It is not enough to just be a Catholic. It is not enough just to come to Church or to pray. What is crucial is discipleship? Jesus came to call each of us to discipleship. The call is not only for some. It is for everyone. We are also reminded that a disciple is not someone who is talented and can make no mistakes. Peter is a good example of a disciple. He was a weak man – a “sinful man” as he claims in today’s gospel. He made many mistakes in his life even after he had met Jesus. He had fallen and had failed Jesus on many occasions. When Jesus was arrested, Peter denied Jesus for fear that he himself would be arrested. When Jesus died on the cross, Peter was no where to be found. He had run away with the other apostles to hide from the authorities. This is a disciple. A disciple is not one who doesn’t make mistakes. He does make mistakes. A disciple is not someone who will always succeed in everything that he does. A true disciple experiences failures just like everyone else. A disciple is not perfect, he does not have the answers all the time, he may not be talented. Very often, a disciple is far from perfect, he has many weaknesses and he struggles just like everyone else.

But what is most important is this – a disciple is one who is prepared to take risks. He is able to take risks because he has developed a deep relationship with Jesus. He trusts Jesus enough to be able to place his own fate in the hands of the Lord. A disciple may be weak or may consider himself as not having the necessary skills for the job, but again, he believes that is possible with the grace and help of God. A disciple recognizes his own sinfulness and constantly turns to God for forgiveness and mercy. This is the kind of disciple that each of us is called to become. Today, Jesus also extends his hand to you. Today, Jesus wants to tell you: “Do not be afraid, from now on it is men you will catch.” Come, Follow Him!