Jan 13, 2018

Invitation to Intimacy (2nd Sunday Ordinary B)

Right after Epiphany Sunday which celebrated the joyful truth of God’s manifestation to all nations and to each and every one of us to assure us of his fidelity to the covenant, we can now move on and continue to reflect deeply on this invitation to a loving relationship with this God who communicates and reveals Himself.

This Sunday, we can speak of the invitation to intimacy with God.  For most of us believers, God is present in our lives but great are the odds that we see Him as a distant God watching us from afar or as a God of providence who becomes especially real to us in times of dire need. Today’s readings reveal a God who calls us, who initiates a loving relationship with us, who invites us to intimacy.

God calls us through the voice of restlessness. The young Samuel, in the first reading (1 Sm. 3: 3-10, 19), experiences some restless nights trying to discern whose voice it is that calls him. Twice, he mistakenly believes it is Eli’s voice. Only on the third instance, with Eli’s guidance, that he recognizes the voice of God calling him. In the gospel reading (Jn. 1: 35-42), the first two disciples of Jesus find themselves in a restless search, perhaps, for something to which they can meaningfully devote their lives.  Jesus confronts them: “What are you looking for?”

Restlessness is a universal human experience. At some point in our lives, we all find ourselves searching for something that can give us peace, contentment, and meaning.  This spurs us on to a frustrating exploration in life looking for happiness in money and possessions, in our achievements and honors, in power and influence, in pleasure and easy gratification. Some quite desperately and sadly settle with destructive addictions.  

But restlessness can be the voice of God calling us to Himself.  Like Samuel, we need to listen to God’s voice: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Or like the first disciples of Jesus, we need to face him and answer bravely his question, “What are you looking for?”  We can be helped tremendously by spiritual guides—like Eli and John who led Samuel and the disciples rightly to the direction of God.  Spiritual directors, as we call them now, can assist us in discerning the voice of God in our experience of restlessness and sorting out the authentic voice of God from many other voices that are there to confuse and mislead us.

God invites us to intimacy with Him. Only in God can our search be over.  As the famous line of St. Augustine’s confession goes: "You have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."

God desires that we rest in Him, that we spend time with Him.  Again, after Samuel recognized God’s voice and came to Him with an open and listening heart, the first reading states, “Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him.”  In the gospel, the disciples received Jesus’ invitation: “Come and see.”  This is an invitation to intimacy... an invitation to spend time with God and to know Him quite personally... not as a distant God... not as a “spare-tire God” whom we remember only when we are running with a flat tire.

Amid the hurly-burly of our crazy contemporary lives, we experience a growing emptiness or restlessness. If we are not guided properly, we can be very careless and senselessly plunge into an ultimately destructive coping mechanisms and addictions that offer us nothing but bottomless pit of emptiness.

Today’s readings remind us of God’s standing invitation—“Come and see...”  “Be with me...”  “Whatever you do... you can do it with me.”  Our restlessness is but a longing for intimacy with a God who is just too happy to be known and be recognized.  May we sort out, from the many voices that drown us every day, the real voice of God inviting us to intimacy with Him.

Jan 6, 2018

God is Not Afraid to Tell Us Who He Is (Epiphany B)

John Powell’s Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? is one of my earliest favorites.  I read this interesting book at a time when I was beginning to feel the need to go out of my shell and find people who would lovingly accept me as I am.  Self-disclosure can be frightening.  In John Powell’s words: “I am afraid to tell you who I am, because, if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am, and it’s all that I have.”  To reveal one’s self openly and honestly takes the rawest kind of courage as one exposes one’s self to a possible pain of rejection.  Yet one will have to risk because only through the process of revealing oneself that one can break free from an even more cruel experience of pain—the prison of isolation. John Powell’s words again come to mind: “To refuse the invitation to interpersonal encounter is to be an isolated dot in the center of a great circle... a small island in a vast ocean.”

We are relational beings.  We wither and perish in isolation. I’m beginning to realize that this is another aspect of being created in the image and likeness of God.  Our God is Himself a relational God.  He is the God of the Covenant.  As such, He cannot be in isolation.  In order to forge a loving relationship with humankind, He has to make himself known.  In Jesus Christ, in that mystery of incarnation we have joyfully celebrated in the season of Christmas, God has definitively revealed himself to human beings in the manner most intelligible to us—as a human being.

Epiphany is the Greek word for revelation or manifestation.  Today’s liturgical celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord calls to mind God’s risky act of manifesting himself to the world.  Indeed, the gospel reading (Mt. 2: 1-12) describes, in that creative story of the visit of the Magi, God’s act of self-revelation and the great irony that accompanied this epiphany in the history of salvation. The Son of God has been rejected by the Chosen People of God, the very people from among whom, ages and ages ago, He was prophesied to come and for whom He was believed to be sent!  Ironically, the wise men from the east, representing the pagan people, were the ones who travelled far and wide in search for the new born King and ended up accepting and worshipping him.  The Lord was rejected by his own people, only to be adored by all nations!

Some points for our reflection:

Self-disclosure and the longing for acceptance. Our relationships, including the relationship with God, are built upon the courageous act of self-disclosure which is met either with rejection or acceptance.  God, who loves us so dearly, cannot but go out of his own comfort zone as God in order to reach out to us in self-revelation.  Any acts of self-manifestation longs for acceptance.  God longs for our acceptance. All too often though, God is met with refusal.  In Jesus Christ, God experienced the utmost rejection on the cross.

In what ways have I refused God’s offer of himself?  King Herod, in today’s gospel, pretended to be interested in searching for the new born King.  But in fact, in his heart of hearts he rejected Jesus as he saw the child as a threat to his power.  King Herod refused to accept Jesus. King Herod was full of himself.  There was no room in his heart for the manifestation of God’s love.  There is room only for his poor self. Is this not the same reason that I refuse God sometimes in my life?  Am I not too full of myself to allow God to communicate his love for me? Am I not closing my heart because of fear that I might lose myself and God might take over the controls in my life?

Beyond the trauma of rejection. God can turn the pain of rejection into the blessing of salvation.  When the Chosen People did not welcome the Messiah, the blessed irony in salvation history transpired.  It was to the gentile world that the glory of the Lord was manifested.  When the Lord was rejected by his own nation, all the nations on earth adored him. In Matthew’s narrative story of the visit of the Magi, the wise men from the east saw his star and understood in it God’s universal invitation for salvation. Hence, the Church today proclaims the revelation of God to the whole world. God reveals and makes Himself known to all men and women.

We can be paralyzed by our traumatic experiences of rejection.  We can spend our lives hiding inside ourselves seeing to it that we will never be hurt again. So we refuse invitations to authentic relationships—sometimes even relationship with God.  But this is the surest way to the prison of isolation. 

Invitation to mutual self-disclosure with God. God allows in himself and in us the experience of being rejected, but he makes sure another door is opened for us.  Epiphany invites us to trust in the God of relationships.  His own act of self-disclosure encourages us to go out of our protective shells and reach out to him and to others.  True worship and adoration can only come from someone and from a people who have the courage to venture out of the familiar self in order to accept the invitation to a mutual self-disclosure with God—the God who is not afraid to tell us who He is.  

Jan 1, 2018

A Heart that Treasures and Reflects (Mary, Mother of God)

A story was told of a king who fell in love with a beautiful peasant who was among his subjects. He sent for her; and in the palace, expressed his love and offered her a life of bounty with him. But the beautiful peasant could not come to accept his gracious offer of love. She was trembling in fear and overtaken by the feeling of unworthiness in the face of the king’s majestic presence. The king was brokenhearted. But with the help of his wise counselor, he realized what to do: either to forget her as there were plenty of other women worthy of his love and stature or to forget being a king and live as a peasant to win her love. What did the king do? He stepped down from his throne, took off his crown, laid down his scepter and put on a peasant’s garment. He lived with the people in the village and once again met the beautiful peasant who eventually and happily accepted his love.

By becoming one of us, God offers his love to us in the only manner that we can truly appreciate: as a human being. So God’s indwelling in us is never an issue of worthiness or unworthiness on our part but rather a statement of God’s gracious will to stoop down to our lowly status on account of his self-emptying love.

Only with this realization that we accept with ease that a simple woman like Mary can truly be the Mother of God. God lovingly wills it. Hence, God lives with us and in us as he wills it. This great mystery of incarnation is the great mystery of God’s love for us. Mary has been both an instrument and a witness of this great mystery.

Today’s gospel (Lk 2:16-21) reveals Mary’s attitude to this mystery of God’s love. “Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart” (v. 19). Treasuring and reflecting. These are acts that we Christians should learn from Mary, the Mother God. Just as Mary treasured and reflected on the marvelous works of God in her life, we too are invited to examine God’s acts of love in our lives. We too ought to treasure in our hearts the beautiful things that God has caused in our lives. Reflecting is also necessary for us to discern what lies behind whatever transpires in our lives and see God’s invitation for us.

So as God deigns to dwell among us, He asks for an open heart on our part. Treasuring and reflecting are acts that show our openness to God’s indwelling. Treasuring and reflecting are just what we need to do as we end the year and begin anew. I would like to suggest four ways of doing this—these are four ways of looking and seeing God: Looking back and thanking God. Looking ahead and trusting in God. Looking around and serving God. Looking within and finding God.

Look back and thank God. One way to treasure God’s marvelous acts is to look back into the past year and see what God has done for us. It’s only in recognizing God’s grace that we can treasure it and find our hearts extolling in gratitude. A victim of typhoon Sendong in Cagayan de Oro city sent me a text message to greet me a happy new year. It read: Even in the worst of times, there are still some things that we can be grateful for.

Look ahead and trust in God. This is an exercise of reflection and discernment. What are we called to do or to become as we go through this another year? Many express this as New Year’s resolution. The future may be filled with uncertainties but we are called to trust in God… because God is always faithful to his promise. We are invited to face what lies ahead with confidence--in latin, con means with; fides means assurance, a promise, word of honor. Hence, we welcome the new year with the assurance that everything will be fine because God cares.

Look around and serve God. This is about the present, our day to day attitude towards life and its challenges and the people we work with or work for. We are asked to see God in the people that surround us and through them serve God each day. In the light of natural calamities that befall us quite frequently now, we cannot deny the fact that to serve is an urgent call to take care of mother Earth. This calling is no longer an option. It is a moral responsibility.

Look within and find God. This is at heart of the mystery of God’s indwelling. God is with us. God dwells in us. People do pilgrimages to have deep spiritual experiences. The most basic pilgrimage I think is the journey within. We can do this simply by giving ourselves moments of silence each day. In that silence, we meet God who dwells within ourselves. We can lose everything helplessly in a flash flood but not God who stays with us no matter what happens.

God is a God who has decided to be with us and to invite us to experience his great love. Mary is our model in responding with an open heart to God’s love by treasuring and reflecting on the marvelous works of God in her life. This New Year let us then be confident of God’s unfailing presence in our life—in the past, in the future, in the present, and within ourselves. As we begin this year, let us ask the grace for a heart that treasures and reflects on the greatness of God’s love.