Thursday, March 25, 2010

From Action to Passion

Palm Sunday 2007

Many people measure their own worth and that of others by what they can do. If you are talented and able to do many things, you are considered a very special and worthy person. If you are not able to do many things, people often consider you as useless. We all value our autonomy and ability to do things on our own. Only young children and old people need to have things done for them. We feel extremely helpless and vulnerable when we are not able to do things for ourselves. That is why many people become very angry and frustrated and sometimes depress whenever they become sick. Others go through a crisis when they grow old, because they feel that they are not wanted anymore. Other elderly people also feel that they have loss control over their lives. When they were younger, they use to take care of the needs of their children. Many find it hard to accept that their children have now to take care of them.

In conclusion, we value action and activities over no action or a lack of it. We must always be doing something. If not, we feel useless and helpless. We feel totally unworthy. Today’s liturgy and the liturgy of this entire Holy Week gives us an entirely different picture. Jesus does not move from a set of activities to more activities. In fact, Jesus moves from being active to being passive. Jesus shows through the last week of his life that the value of life is not dependent on what we can do but rather on what God can do for us. When we are active and able to do things for ourselves, there is no room for God’s help. We don’t need God if we can solve our own problems. We don’t need God’s help if we can do things on our own. On the other hand, when we are helpless, financially, spirituality, emotionally, physically, we come to realize how much we need God in our lives. In fact, it is when we are powerless and helpless that we come to realize that life is meaningless without God.

Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday. Passion comes from the same root word for ‘passive.’ Jesus undergoes a change in his ministry. Before this week, we read of how Jesus performed miracles and taught the thousands that came to him. He was extremely active in his ministry. Somehow, he was not very successful in his active ministry. Many people came to him for miracles and healing. But very few actually decided to follow him. Even his closest friends and disciples will abandon him at the end of his life. His life of action will end in failure. But today, being the first day of Holy Week, a great change will take place. From active ministry, he is now going to become passive. He will be arrested, persecuted, nailed to the cross and finally left to die. He will become powerless and helpless. But it is in his powerlessness that he will accomplish our salvation. In other words, a life of failure will end in victory because God is victorious over sin and death.

When we look around us, we also see this same process happening – from being active to being passive. It is frightening process because no one likes to be helpless or powerless. No one likes to grow old and become useless. No one likes become sick and needing to be cared for. No one likes loosing their securities. But, we also realize that unless we move from the active to the passive, we will never allow God to be in control. If we continue attempting to control our lives and the lives of others, we will meet with failure. Victory and success is only guaranteed when we are prepared to let go and let God take control.

Let us enter Holy Week while keeping all of these in mind. Let us journey with Jesus from being active to being passive. Let us journey with Jesus as we slowly die to ourselves and to our false securities. Let us journey with Jesus to the cross and everlasting life thereafter.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Will the real God stand up!

Third Sunday of Lent Year C

What is your image of God? If I were to ask you to draw a picture of God, what would you draw? Many people would imagine that God looks like a very old man with a long white beard. You would also imagine that God looks like a Westerner. Perhaps, God appears to be sitting like a judge, ready to pronounce judgment on sinners. He is stern and not smiling. He is of course surrounded by angels and lightning issues forth from his throne. It is an image of great and powerful king. You would be afraid to come too close to his throne because you feel that you are not worthy.

This is an image that many people have of God. It is an impersonal image. It is a God who is distant from us and who is far above us. Perhaps, this may have been your experience of God prior to this retreat or even after this retreat. Today’s readings give us an entirely different picture of God. God is not hiding behind the clouds in heaven. God is present here among us. God does not reveal himself only in spectacular and miraculous events but reveals himself in the daily events of our lives, sometimes, very ordinary events. In the first reading, we have the story of how God appears to Moses and appoints him as his messenger to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses would never have expected to encounter God in the middle of the burning bush. This part of the wilderness was always dry. Bush fires were something natural and frequent. God chose to appear in the ordinary. He could have chosen to appear in the magnificent temples of Egypt or in the proper places of worship, but he didn’t. Sometimes, we too imagine that God is high above in the heavens. He is so high up in the skies that our prayers are not heard. Very often, we only expect to experience God in the Church, during the mass and in our prayers. We never expect to encounter God in the ordinary events of our lives. God is present everywhere. He is present in the market. He is present in our homes. He is present in our family even in the midst of our arguments. He is present when we are in trouble. He is present when we feel alone and confused.

God is not the god who frowns on our happiness and who loves to make our lives difficult. God does not enjoy seeing us suffer. On the contrary, God is full of humour. He rejoices at our joy and grieves with us in our sorrow. God is not a police man waiting to catch us for breaking his law. He is not a stern judge waiting to condemn us and send us to hell. Rather, God is a God of compassion and mercy. He is ever patient. Jesus gives us the beautiful parable of the man who planted a fig tree. Even though the tree was not bearing fruit in spite of all the hard work that had been put into it, the man patiently decided to wait and to give the tree another chance. This is our God who patiently waits for our repentance. This is our God who looks on us sinners with compassion. This is our God who was even prepared to send his only Son to die for us so that we may be saved from our sins.

Our image of God affects our spirituality and the way in which we relate to others. If we imagine that God is a stern judge or a police man waiting to catch us for every infringement of the law, then our religion would be based on fear rather than on faith and love. If we imagine that God is a hard and uncompromising judge, we would also begin to judge others harshly. If we imagine that God is always serious and never laughs, we would also be very serious and feel uncomfortable when we see others having a good time.

Let us pray that God would purify our images of him. Let us cast off the false images of God that do not help us in our spiritual growth. God has made man in his image and likeness. Let us not make God in our own image and likeness. Let God be God as his name suggests: “I am who I am.”