Jul 14, 2018

Traveling Light (15th Sunday Ordinary B)

In Traveling Light, the author, Max Lucado, examines each of the burdens that we carry with us in our life’s journey and suggests how we should let go of these cumbersome and unnecessary “baggage” and let God take care of them. These “baggage” that weigh us down take on many forms including self-reliance, disappointment, worries, arrogance, afflictions, grief and fear among others. The author, using the verses of Psalm 23 as points of reference, assures us of the care and desire of God, as our Shepherd, to free us from these burdens we were never intended to bear.

Today’s gospel (Mk 6: 7-13), too, is an exhortation on traveling light. Jesus sends his disciples to mission and he makes sure they do not carry whatever that is unnecessary and that they have to rely on God’s providence. In this gospel reading, Jesus reveals the secret to a contented, purposeful and trusting way of living. The secret is simplicity.

Traveling light in this journey we call life can take the form of the simplicity of lifestyle. To be simple does not mean to be suffering from want and to lack what one needs in life. To be simple is to live within the bounds of the basic necessities in life, to be peacefully contented with what is essential. Mark’s gospel records Jesus’ instructions: “Bring nothing for the journey except for walking staff and sandals” (v. 8). In other words, bring what is necessary and what facilitates your purpose; put down the extra “baggage” as these will slow and weigh you down. Well, this is fine and very reasonable so far.

But what about this? “Bring not even food or money!” If Jesus is addressing us today, we would certainly be very quick to react: “What?! Wait a minute! Are you serious? No food and no money?!” “Well, then, I’ll bring a credit card instead.” Such a reaction is predictable because it just expresses what we have become--insecure and helplessly dependent on money. But still, how do we make sense of Jesus’ injunction not to bring provisions?

Two things may help us see the meaning and relevance of this gospel. First, the single-mindedness for the mission. Second, the dependence on God’s providence.

Single-mindedness. Jesus exhorts his disciples to travel light. To bring only what is necessary because this facilitates the achievement of the purpose for which they are sent. The disciples are to preach repentance, to cure the sick, to expel demons, in short to announce that the reign of God is at hand. This is the purpose. This is the mission. The disciples ought to always have this in mind. Material possessions are cumbersome and its accumulation can distract them from this mission. But to travel light is to be single-minded about one’s goals. A disciple should always be on the go.

You see, to be simple is to be single-minded for the mission, undistracted by the attractions that this world offers. Our life has a purpose. It is our task to discern what that is and to be directed by that God-given purpose. So, it’s best to ask ourselves, “What is the god-given purpose of my life?” Without it, my life will be disoriented, easily swayed by the many tantalizing options offered by this materialistic and consumerist society. When our purpose or mission is unclear, it is easy for us to settle into living an extravagant lifestyle because we are misled to think that this is what life means. The irony though is that when our true purpose remains unfulfilled, we experience the deepest, disturbing emptiness—a void that no amount of money can fill.

Again, “What is my purpose or mission in life?” All the things I have are mere instruments to attain this. Many things I possess may not even be necessary for this. To simplify then helps me attain focus and single-mindedness.

Dependence on God’s providence. “Bring not even food or money.” It’s quite hard for a modern man to set out for his mission without these provisions. That’s why we may react like this, “Well, then, no money; but I’ll bring my credit card instead.”

The Lord is not saying here that we will not be needing food or money in doing our mission. In fact, any form of ministering requires financial support and cannot be sustained without it. The gospel reminds us that the disciples have to depend on the support of generous household who will accept them: “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there” (v. 10). Making money is not the apostles’ mission. They have to rely on the generosity of those to whom they have been sent. They have to trust in God’s providence. And believe that when God wants something to be done, God provides. I’ve always believed that the generous benefactors of the Church’s different ministries are signs of God’s continuing support to the mission.

In this age of strategic planning, we do not leave any room for chance. Everything is planned from the objectives down to the budget needs. Somehow we tend to leave God out of the equation and go on with our projects as if we are the ultimate director of things. And when things go wrong we end up taking tranquilizers to give us peace, to save us from depression, or even from going insane. Or the worst is, like some of the richest seemingly invincible persons in the world hit by global financial crisis, we end up jumping on a speeding train to call it quits.

Like the early disciples of Jesus, we need to trust in God’s providence. This is a humble stance, recognizing that we are not in control of everything. And many things are uncertain. Like what the inspirational author, Max Lucado, suggests, we need to trust in God and allow Him to take care of the unnecessary baggage we wrongly carry along with us.

Travel light. Be simple. Trust in God.

Jul 7, 2018

Why are Good People Silent? (14th Sunday Ordinary B)

The French military and political leader who rose to prominence and became Napoleon I, Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815, is often quoted saying:  “The world suffers a lot, not because of the violence of bad people, but because of the silence of good people!”  We easily remember, too, Martin Luther King, Jr. expressing his similar disappointment: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Why do good people remain silent in the face of evil?  Why do witnesses to evil deeds turn a blind eye and pretend that everything is just fine?

To denounce that which runs contrary to the values of God’s Kingdom and to proclaim, on the other hand, the tidings of liberation to those who have been suffering is a prophetic task. And prophets have the reputation of being rejected, insulted, persecuted, and finally executed! Who would like to take up this cause?

But still we feel a real sense of disappointment with good people who do not do anything but to protect themselves within their comfort zones while knowing full well that many are suffering.  We are disappointed because inherent to goodness is the prophetic mission to proclaim the truth and expose the evil. 

Today’s readings encourage us to take up our prophetic task as Christians. The experience of rejection, no doubt, will have to be part of this mission but the readings assure us that God enables us to fulfil our task. Three assurances overshadow our fear of rejection: One, that God cares; two, that God’s grace strengthens us in our weakness; three, that God’s saving power works even in the ordinary.

A word for each:

The assurance that God cares. In the first reading (Ez 2: 2-5), the prophet Ezekiel is sent by God to the rebellious Israelites. God cautions Ezekiel of the people’s obstinacy of heart. Hence, there is a great probability of the prophet being unheeded or rejected. Nevertheless, God instructs Ezekiel to proclaim God’s message to this rebellious people, whether they heed or resist, that they may know “that a prophet has been among them” (v. 5). In other words, God wants the people to know, even if they persist in their obstinacy, that God cares for them. The prophet’s presence among them is a reminder that God never gives up on them.

God cares. He is unhappy when evil seems to prevail and causing the suffering of his children. Good people are invited to be the sign of God’s love and care amid the suffering of people.

The assurance of God’s grace.  We may feel weak in the face of insults and rejection.  The second reading (2 Cor 12: 7-10) assures us of the empowering grace of God.  St. Paul attests to what the Lord said to him in his moments of weakness: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” This gives St. Paul the confidence to embrace weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints for the sake of Christ.  “For when I am weak,” he attests,”it is then that I am strong” (v. 10).

When God calls a prophet, He empowers him with his grace. What God requires, He enables.

The assurance of God’s power in the ordinary.  The rejection of Jesus by his townsfolk in today’s gospel reading (Mk 6:1-6) is due to the people’s familiarity with Jesus’ background.  They could not reconcile his authoritative teachings and miracles with his ordinariness.  “How is it such miraculous deeds are accomplished by his hands? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary...?” (v. 3) The people lacked faith in him for they could not see the power of God in the ordinary and familiar person of Jesus.

In Jesus, the carpenter, the familiar, the ordinary is the saving power of God.  God works even through the most ordinary people, events, and circumstances. He can work through us.

We are challenged to confront so many forms of evil today: Corruption that leads to poverty and destitution, injustices and oppression, unbridled cravings for consumption and ecological exploitation that threaten the very survival of Mother Earth, erosion of moral values, and degradation of human life to mention a few.

Good people ought not to remain silent in the face of these evils. We, Christians, for that matter, ought to take up our prophetic mission...

...even if there’s no promise of being accepted by obstinate hearts, if only to show that God is present amid our suffering as people and that God cares and does not give up on us.

...even if we know full well our own weakness and fear in the face of insults and persecution, for we know too that God’s grace is our strength.

...even if we are just simple individuals and citizens, for God’s saving power has no difficulty working in the familiar and the ordinary.


Jun 30, 2018

Do not be Afraid. Have faith. (13th Sunday Ordinary B)

In the movie, First Knight, the free-spirited and bohemian character who lived by the sword, Lancelot, fearlessly rescued from the attack of the soldiers of the ex-Round Table Knight, Malagant, the beautiful and attractive Lady Guinevere who was betrothed to the King.  Lancelot was immediately taken in by Guinevere’s beauty. So in another occasion, Lancelot displayed his wanton bravery when he nonchalantly made it through the Gauntlet, a seemingly-impossible obstacle course set up for amusement by the King. His aim was to impress Lady Guinevere and to get closer to her.  By King Arthur’s invitation, Lancelot became one of the Round Table Knights.  The secret mutual attraction between Lancelot and the Queen continued to grow.  The free-spirited Lancelot began to learn how to care and love.  When the King was forced to go to battle one last time to defend the city of Camelot against Malagant, Lancelot, for the first time, experienced fear.  This time, he was very afraid of death because he was in love.

Aren’t we all afraid of death?  Looking at it without the eyes of faith, death can represent the tragic nature of human existence. We unconsciously avoid confronting the issue of death; we just ignore it and wish it away. When at last we muster our courage to come to terms with it, we are faced with the problem of the meaning of life altogether.  What is the point of living when by all indications we are condemned to die?  The famous Existentialist Erich Fromm, for instance, noted that at the time a person is born, he already begins to die and he always dies before he is fully born.  At birth, man begins to suffer and he will suffer until he dies.  And what makes life tragic and suffering unbearable is that an individual usually dies before his loved ones or they before him and there is no comfort in either case except pain and suffering.

Without faith in God, the origin and destiny of life, we are left with fear.  We fear our own death and, more so, that of our loved ones.  Without faith, we fear that life itself is pointless.

In today’s gospel reading (Mk 5:21-43), Jesus assures us of the triumph of life over death and suffering.  He is the answer to the riddle of our human existence.  Jesus cures the woman with a haemorrhage and restores the life of the daughter of Jairus.  These two connected incidents portray Jesus’ immersion into the suffering of human existence.  He is amid a large crowd hoping for some kind of help or relief from the different faces of suffering.  One of these is the woman who has been afflicted with haemorrhages for twelve years. The other is the synagogue official, Jairus, who is tormented by the prospect of the death of his 12-year old daughter.  Jesus is right there in the midst of the crowd’s search for hope, for meaning, for life.  And Jesus responds in accordance to the faith of those who come to him.

To the woman freed from prolonged haemorrhagic sufferings, Jesus says: “Daughter, your faith has saved you.”  To Jairus who is greeted with the sad news of the death of his daughter, Jesus says: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” And He restores the life of the child.

Only with the eyes of faith that we can grasp the ultimate beauty of life—that life is not just pure pointless suffering that culminates in death; that life is our destiny in eternity; that the abundance of life with God is our ultimate fate. 

Today’s readings invite us not to be afraid.  But to trust in God and have faith.  Jesus makes good of the assurance of the book of Wisdom that “God did not make death nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living…. That God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him” (Wis 1:13-23).  Death is the work of the devil and Jesus has overcome its power by his own death and resurrection.  Jesus is our salvation. Jesus is our life.

“Do not be afraid. Have faith.” We can make this our mantra when we feel we are being overcome by doubt and fear amid the sufferings and seeming contradictions in life.  To trust in God, the God of the living, allows us to embrace life to its fullest, freed from the unnecessary torment of the prospect of dying. To be unafraid sets us free to be joyful in serving, unreserved in self-giving, quick in forgiving, and courageous in loving.

With faith in Jesus, life prevails and has a beautiful eternal purpose. And even our physical death can be something beautiful. In the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta: Death, in the final analysis, is only the easiest and quickest means to go back to God. If only we could make people understand that we come from God and that we have to go back to Him!

Again, we listen to the words of Jesus who reassures us: “Do not be afraid. Have faith.”