Why Friendships are Valuable

29 July 2009 Memorial of St. Martha
Exodus 24, 29-35; Psalm 99; John 11, 19-27 or Luke 10, 38-42

Jesus calls for non-preferential love for all. He scours villages to embrace foreigners and sinners, the outcast and the oppressed, the strangers and the lonely. But he has preferential relationships Himself: from particular groups like the disciples (His barkada), the women who surround him, and to specific people such as the disciple whom he loves and the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. For us to love universally, we have to love particularly. To love the poor of the world, we should have someone in mind, a poor person with a name, a face, and memories of time spent with them. Friendship, after all, is both a universal human experience and at the same time a very particular one.

One such friend to Jesus is Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus. We all have pictured her as a doing person. Her concern is the upkeep of the house and the esteem of her guests. Hers is the spirit of generosity: she wants her guest to feel like family, comfortable and warmed by her home. It is not difficult to imagine why wanderers like Jesus and his disciples who do not have a place to rest would find Martha’s home cooking irresistible. It is not hard to see why they have been Jesus’ particular friends, that when Lazarus died, He, the God of Life, cried as well. And all the more we cannot doubt Martha’s heart for Jesus and his disciples. At the very news of their visit, she excitedly prepares her house like our mothers who would prepare our rooms and our favorite food every time we inform them that we’re coming home.

But we cannot separate Martha and Mary. I suggest that we have to throw into the rubbish bin our interpretation that Mary is far better than Martha. I suggest that we put these icons of faith together and at par with each other. And make these two women images of how we are to make friends with Jesus. To these icons, we can glean the value of friendship in our lives and in our ministry. To me, friendship is what keeps me happy in my life as a priest: because I do not have a family, there are people who offer their hearts and open their homes for me. Why is friendship valuable?

First, friendship is crucial in our development as persons because we develop our humanity through our relationships. It helps us grow personally, emotionally and morally. The friendship between Jesus and his family friends in Bethany contributed to their growth as persons. In their conversations, they are able to share their feelings, thoughts, dreams, moral judgments and especially criticism. Case in point: As guest in another’s home, we would rather keep quiet if we see something we don’t agree with. But because Martha is a friend of Jesus, He is comfortable to tell Martha not to be too troubled about taking care of Him. Our real friends can point out our warts and at the same time, love them too.

Second, friendship is enjoyed simply on the account of the relationship entered. We just enjoy our friends’ company. A friend is someone who provokes our interests and our passions, invites us to see reality beyond the virtual (and the denials), assists us to reflect and see the depths of our hearts that we are moved to prayer. With whatever we do, friends are able to help us aspire for loftier and noble things.

This is precisely what Mary is enjoying at the company of Jesus. Oftentimes, our friends know what we truly need even before they realize it. Jesus knows what Mary needed, and He responds to it readily --- even though He may be hungry (a hunch). Martha is still preparing the things He needs. And what does a guest need usually? Food. And to me, this is the reason why He tells Martha that what He is doing is more important at that particular time. The act of foregoing a concrete and immediate need in order to respond to a deeper hunger is what matters. We often do this with our friends. We drop whatever we do, when a loved one needs us.

Of course, we should not forget Lazarus. Jesus reclines at table with him and enjoys his company. No need to elaborate: we simply enjoy our friends.

And so as we remember Martha today, we remember the value of friendships in our lives and what it does to the work we do in the Kingdom of God. And as memories are always connected with other memories, we too remember Mary and Lazarus. We thank them for taking care of Jesus and his disciples. Healthy relationships has Jesus at the center. In and through Him, we begin, maintain and perfect our friendships.

Why You Should Love Mary Magdalene

22 July 2009. Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene
Exodus 16, 1-15; Psalm 78; John 20, 1-18

I find it a great tragedy that many Christians are not as attracted to Mary Magdalene as other saints. The reason is that she is traditionally associated with prostitutes or with the sexually promiscuous that it defocus on the true worth of this lady who have been part of the life of Jesus and his disciples. It is to this very sinner that Jesus first appeared to; the first disciple who witnessed the resurrection. And therefore we cannot talk of the Easter appearances without mentioning Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene holds a special place in my spiritual life. Her life gives me much hope. You see, Mary Magdalene knows how sinful she is, how to repent and beg for forgiveness, and how to continue to hope in the Lord. But most importantly, Mary Magdalene knows how to receive God’s forgiveness in faithfulness and service. It is in Mary that I find great hope. It is in Mary that I see what Easter means.

Let me explain. First, I am very much aware that I am a sinner. I know my deceits and my failures; I am aware of how I have hurt others and the Lord whom I love. Oftentimes, when I pray I am filled with remorse when faced with my own sinfulness; and often ask the Lord why He has called me to minister to all of you. I am definitely not worthy of the task. In fact, when I hear confessions, I feel that what I say to the penitent, I should also tell myself. In other words, every time I pray, a large part of me dies, and then when it is over, I stand up and promise to the Lord again and again that I will give my best shot, that I will try again to become holier and to become a better priest. I remember what Fr. Jojo Magadia SJ said about Easter:

“Easter is not about not dying. It is about dying first, and then rising, and that is what Easter is for each one of us. It is not about not sinning, or not doing wrong, or not hurting others, and not giving a damn about others, or not making mistakes. It is about being all these, and moving forward again, and giving our very best shot again, and again, and again.”

Second, the experience of forgiveness and being given another chance by God is always an overwhelming experience for me. Mary Magdalene was overwhelmed by Jesus’ forgiveness that in her gratitude totally gave herself as one of Jesus’ women disciples. Her love of Jesus knows no bounds. We see that forgiveness is also part of the Resurrection event. The disciples who had forsaken Jesus, where not abandoned by God. In our human estimations, these disciples do not deserve trust again. And yet, they received from Mary Magdalene and the women, the Good News despite their unfaithfulness.

Bishop Chito Tagle of Imus writes, “to forgive someone is to say, “I hope.” To not forgive is to say, “I have lost hope in God’s capacity to renew you.” Forgiveness is an act of hope in God to work wonders in the person. To forgive is to be able to say, “God’s mercy and compassion is more powerful than all your failings and I have hope in God’s mercy and compassion.” Mary gives us that example: the sinner becomes the saint. Along with her, we see the likes of Augustine and Ignatius: the greatest sinners are the greatest saints.

Fr. Horacio de la Costa SJ, the First Filipino Provincial of the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus described a Jesuit as “a sinner yet called by God to be a companion of Jesus.” It is important to see that there is no denial of sinfulness, but there is an emphasis on the mission given by God --- sinners YET CALLED. We should not be stuck by our sinfulness, or our low self-esteem, or else we will not be able to move forward. I guess it is true with Mary Magdalene. In the Resurrection, the women have been given the task of bringing the Good News to the disciples of Jesus. The women who were second-class citizens, properties of men, have been chosen by God to become intermediaries of the faith of men, those to whom the world has given power --- a reverse social order. Mary Magdalene is considered as “the apostle to the apostles,” being the first to proclaim the central Christian message, “He is risen!” She is part of the beautiful history of women that is rooted in the Resurrection. It is to Mary that the Lord first appeared.

And so as we celebrate the feast of Mary Magdalene, we celebrate with joy and hope in our hearts. We remember that Easter is about becoming forgiven sinners and bearers of hope. It is about dying and rising again and again and again.

Ten Things To Know How Close You Are

21 July 2009. Tuesday of the 16th Week in Ordinary Time
Exodus 14, 21 - 15, 1; Exodus 15; Matthew 12, 46-50

This passage seems tragic: not Jesus’ nearest and dearest relatives were rejected by Jesus, saying “my mother and my brothers are those who do the will of my Father in heaven.” However, we also see that Jesus’ nearest and dearest relatives did not quite understood him. In John 7, 5, we read that “Even his brothers id not believe in him” and in Mark 3, 21, we encounter that his friends tried to restrain him, for they said that he was mad. He seemed to them that Jesus was throwing his life away with what he was doing.

Nevertheless, Jesus presents to us a practical truth: that we actually find ourselves closer to people who do not belong to our kinsfolk. The reality is that sometimes the deepest friendships are not blood relationships. They are our relationships with whoever connects with us: mind to mind, heart to heart. They are with people who share our common interests, common goals, common principles, or those who compliment them. Thus there are friends who like each other’s company because they are of opposite poles. It is in this sharing that they become truly kith and kin.

So today, let me present to you several themes and see who among your acquaintances --- or relatives for that matter ---- fall under people whom you can consider kith and kin. What constitutes kith and kin?

1. Family background. My friend knows something about my family background. He has visited my home, knows some of my siblings, or just heard me talk about my childhood and adolescent years. He has some understanding of why I am the way I am. Does my friend know my family history?

2. My current life situation. My friend knows what is going on in my life here and now, my joys and struggles in living everyday life, my worries and what occupies my time. Which among my friends are most familiar with my current life situation?

3. My inmost desires. My friend knows about my goals, directions and more importantly my desires as a person. As I share with him these desires, he is willing to offer encouragement, clarification, and when necessary, challenge. Which among my friends do I turn to when needing to share the deeper longings of my heart?

From St. Francis Xavier to St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Your holy Charity (Ignatius) writes to me of the great desires which you have to see me before you leave this life. God our Lord knows the impression which these words of great love made upon my soul and how many tears they cost me every time that I remember them.”

4. My negative feelings. With a friend, I am more willing to ventilate and share my negative feelings or doubts about a wide variety of matters. I feel “safe” in sharing such concerns and feelings. Whom among my friends do I trust enough to freely share my negative feelings?

5. Wishing the good of the other. I genuinely wish the good of my friend. If his “good” means our separation geographically or even his departure from my barkada, then, even though it costs me personal pain, I wish it for him. Do my actions and attitudes convey to my friend a genuine desire for what is best for him?

6. Challenge. I am more comfortable (as is my friend) when we do this with one another, since our life histories together grant permission for such mutual intrusion. To challenge in other for both of us to grow. How comfortable am I with lovingly challenge and give feedback as well as accepting challenge and feedback from my friend?

7. Positive feelings. The predominant feeling emanating from this friendship is positive: a friend stirs in my feelings of joy and gratitude. In turn, my positive feelings become my motivating factors that energize my endeavors, my studies, my other relationships. Do my positive feelings when experiencing this friendship leave me more grateful for my life?

8. Discreet silence. Just as we might know what to say to a friend, we also know what not to say. Part of friendship is an awareness of what need not be mentioned or discussed. This is totally different from the common notion that one becomes a friend unless one shares “everything” and “every little secret.” When with my friend, do I have an intuitive sense of what not to say as wells as of what to say? Do I abstain from raising certain issues that need not be mentioned at that time, and perhaps need best to postpone it some other time when my friend is ready for it?

9. Disclosing personal secrets. My friend knows things about my life that are reserved for a select few. What do I share with my friend? Do I know him as well as I would like to? Are there areas we avoid speaking about?

10. Spiritual life. We engage is spiritual conversation, encourage one another to speak of matters that concern faith and the longings of our souls that includes each other’s spiritual struggles and desires. This friendship enriches my solitude, for it leads me to be more self-aware and creative about my life and desires. With whom in my numerous friends can I share my spiritual life? How am I different now because of this friend of mine?

In sum, the notion of friendship is an extraordinarily rich one. Ultimately, they must be experienced and risked in the daily ins and outs of our lives, lives that incorporate and share our joys, hurts, hopes and sorrows of being human. There is reason why Jesus calls us his friends, his “mother and brothers and sisters to him.” St. Robert Southwell SJ once wrote as follows:

“If you love a friend so much, if he or she is so attractive that everything he asks of you, you would agree to; and if it is so sweet to sit and talk with him, describe your mishaps to him--- then with ho much more trust should you betake yourself to God, the God of goodness, converse with him, show him your weakness and distress, for he has greater care of you that you have of yourself, indeed he is more intimately you than you are.”

St. Robert Southwell SJ affirms that there is indeed something in our experience of friendship that brings us closer to the Lord, for every experience of friendship provides us with a taste of heaven --- just as Jesus said, “whoever does the will of the Father is brother, sister and friend to me.”

Do You Have What It Takes To Be President of the Country?

19 July 2009. Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 23, 1-6; Psalm 22; Ephesians 2, 13-18; Mark 6, 30-34

Note: Filipino version in the previous post.

In the history of the Jewish people, the shepherd was the image of leadership. It was not easy to be a shepherd during those times. They had to find greener pasture for their flock; diligently watched every single sheep so that not one would fall prey to wolves and found themselves in another’s fold. That was why, they had to know each one of them and the sheep in turn should recognize his voice apart from the rest of the shepherds who were also guarding their own flock. In the past, the flock was owned by the community, so that when a sheep was lost, he was accountable to them. He had to comb the mountains and scour for the lost sheep. And when he was able to find them, it was the community who rejoiced over one sheep that was lost.

On the other hand, flocks without shepherds easily scattered. The prophesy of a future son of David in the first reading began with the accusation that the leaders of Israel, the “shepherds” had been responsible for the exile. Yahweh said to different prophets like Jeremiah that He would punish these leaders because they had no heart for the flock under their care. So the Lord took away their power and chose real shepherds like Moses and David to gather the sheep once again and return them to Yahweh.

But the successors of these chosen shepherds did not fulfill their duties until the coming of the Messiah. The role of becoming the perfect Shepherd to God’s people had been fulfilled and realized through Jesus. The Lord was able to feed the people’s hunger for the Word of God. And just like the perfect shepherd, He offered His life for the flock. This selfless giving of His life was the ultimate sign of the true Shepherd. In addition, His death and resurrection restored and reconciled the scattered people of God to the Father.

We all know too well the struggle of the lost and confused. We become bewildered when the truth is hazy. The film, Doubt, illustrates this point: we do not know who is speaking the truth and who is tweaking it. Sr. Aloysius (Meryl Streep) perpetuated a story that raised suspicion for Fr. Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that he was having an affair with their only black student. This is the same with news dailies. We do not know who is speaking the truth and who is concocting falsity. Like many leaders of the past, our leaders have been greedy for wealth and power. With the present ‘shepherding’ crisis, we face a scattered and confused people without an icon of truth to guide them. Think of the many children left to themselves because of absentee or emotionally distant parents.

In the advent of a national election in our country, we should take seriously the exercise of choosing the best candidate to lead us. Who among the names on the list possess the qualities of a good shepherd? Moreover, we should also focus on issues that encourage division or threatens our unity as a people; and see who among them are proponents of unjust structures.

During the time of the Old Testament, the community elected the shepherd to care for their flock. The Lord chose the leader by anointing their heads with oil, the way the prophets who are at the Lord’s service poured oil on David. In our baptism, we were anointed with chrism, the same oil used for the leaders of yore. Thus today, it is a sacred duty of Christians to truly discern and elect rightly their leaders, according to their qualifications and character: people who truly love God and their country. Not according to the amount they give to buy our right, our freedom and our souls.

Bagay Ka Bang Maging Pinuno?

Ika-19 ng Hulyo 2009. Ika-16 Linggo sa Karaniwang Panahon
Jeremiah 23, 1-6; Psalm 22; Ephesians 2, 13-18; Mark 6, 30-34

Note: This Filipino version appears in today's Sunday Sambuhay, a publication by the Society of St. Paul; missalettes for the Sunday liturgy. The English version is above.

Sa kasaysayan ng mga Judio, ang pastol ang tinaguriang huwaran ng isang pinuno. Hindi madali ang pagpapastol noong mga panahon. Dinadala ng pastol ang mga kawan sa luntiang pastulan. Binabantayan niya ang bawat tupa at huwag hayaaang mawala at matangay ng mga mababangis na hayop. Sinisigurado niyang hindi mahalo ang kanyang kawan sa iba; kaya kilala niya ang bawat tupa at sumusunod naman sa kanyang tinig ang mga inaalagaan niya. Pagmamay-ari ng buong komunidad ang maraming kawan; kaya kung may isang tupang naliligaw, sinusuyod nito ang buong bundok upang hanapin ang nawawala. At kung natagpuan ang tupang naiwanan, nagdiriwang ang buong bayan.

Sa kabilang banda, kumakalat at nawawala ang kawan na walang nagpapastol. Naging mapagbaya at mapag-angkin ang mga pinuno ng Israel. Kaya sinabi ng Panginoon sa iba’t ibang propeta tulad ni Jeremias na paparusahan niya ang mga ito dahil wala silang masalakit sa kanilang nasasakupan. Dahil dito, binawi ng Panginoon sa namumuno ang kanilang kapangyarihan. Sa halip, pinili ng Panginoon ang iba’t ibang pastol tulad nina Moises at Haring David, upang ipunin muli ang nagkalat na tupa at ibalik sila sa piling ng Diyos.

Ngunit, hindi ito nagampanan nang maigi; hanggang sa pagdating ni Mesias. Sa pamamagitan ni Kristo ginampanan at pinaramdam ng Panginoon ang pagiging tunay na Pastol. Hindi lamang natugunan ni Kristo ang tindi ng pagkagutom ng mga tao sa Salita ng Diyos; ngunit ini-alay Niya ang kanyang buong sarili para sa kawan. Ang pag-aalay na ito ang naging kasukdul-sukdulan na halimbawa ng tunay na pamumuno at masigasig na paglilingkod. Sa kanyang pagkamatay at muling pagkabuhay, naibalik at naisariwa ni Kristo ang ating ugnayan sa Diyos.

Batid natin ang mga oras na ramdam natin ang ating pagkalito at pagkawala. Nalilito tayo kung hindi malinaw ang katotohanan. Sa pelikulang, Doubt, hindi mawari kung sino ang nagsasalita ng totoo. Dahil sa kuwentong pinalaganap ni Sr. Aloysius (Meryl Streep), pinagdududahan si Fr. Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) na may relasyon sa kaisa-isang estudyanteng itim. Ganoon din ang maraming isyu sa diyaryo. Hindi na natin alam kung sino ang tama o mali. Tulad ng mga maraming pinuno noong panahon ng Lumang Tipan, maraming lider ang nagiging gahaman sa kapangyarihan at sa kayamanan. Kasabay sa mga isyung ito ang pagkawala ng mga taong gumiguia sa maraming mga batang naiiwan. Maraming mga magulang ang nakipagsapalaran sa ibang bansa; at hinahayaan na lamang magsarili ang kanilang mga anak. Kaya maraming mga bata ngayon ang pariwara at lumihis na ng landas. Isang malaking pangangailangan nating lahat ang isang mabuting pastol.

Habang umiinit ang nalalapit na eleksiyon, maaari nating isipin kung sino sa mga kandidato ang may malasakit sa bayan. Sino sa mga nagpabatid na tatakbo bilang pinuno ng bansa ang may katangian ng isang mabuting pastol? Nararapat nating tingnan ang mga isyung sanhi ng pagkawatak-watak natin, at tingnan kung sino ang makaka-ahon sa ating bansa sa kinatatayuan nito. Noong unang panahon, pinipili ng komunidad na may-ari ng kawan ang mga pastol. Pinili rin ng Diyos sa pamamagitan ng paglagay ng langis sa mga hinirang na hari. At gayon ding pinili tayo ng Diyos sa pamamagitan ng krismo sa ating ulo sa binyag. Dahil dito, isang banal na responsibilidad ng tunay na Kristiyano ang pumili ng karapat-dapat mamuno sa ating bansa --- batay sa kanilang katangiang maka-Diyos at maka-bayan, hindi sa malaking perang ini-aabot upang bilhin ang ating kaluluwa.

What's God's Priority?

17 July 2009 Friday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time
Exodus 11:10 - 12:14; Psalm 116; Matthew 12, 1-8

The readings today affirm one basic truth about God’s priority. Over and above any law, mercy stands at its highest. God has heard the prayers and tears of the Israelites in Egypt. And the first reading tells us about the hour of showing His mercy and love. It is the time of of haste; the time of salvation! In the Gospel today, Jesus reiterated that God desires mercy and not sacrifice. The Sabbath is a time of worship in which believers sacrifice animals as atonement for their sins or as peace offerings. Jesus tells the Pharisees that the Sabbath is best kept by practicing mercy and compassion, in imitation of God’s saving work of love.

I have a story: Banana Fritters

Nine-year-old Pepe decided one Sunday morning to make banana fritters for his parents. He found a big bowl and spoon, pulled a chair to the counter, opened the cupboard and pulled out the heavy rice flour canister, spilling it on the floor. He scooped some of the flour into the bowl with his hands, mixed in most of a cup of milk and added some sugar, leaving a floury trail on the floor which by now had a few tracks left by his puppy.

Pepe was covered with flour and getting frustrated. He wanted this to be something very good for Nanay and Tatay, but it was getting very bad. He didn’t know what to do next, whether to put it all into the stove, (and he didn’t know how the stove worked)! Suddenly he saw his puppy licking from the bowl of mix and reached to push her away, knocking the eggs, bananas and oil to the floor. Frantically he tried to clean up this monumental mess but slipped on the eggs, bananas and oil, getting his t-shirt dirty.

And just then he saw Tatay standing at the door. Big crocodile tears welled up in Pepe’s eyes. All he wanted to do was something good, but he’d made a terrible mess. He was sure a scolding was coming, maybe even a spanking. But his father just watched him. Then, walking through the mess, he picked up his crying son, hugged him and loved him, getting his own shirt dirty in the process.


This is how God deals with our human weaknesses and mistakes. We insult a friend or we can’t stand our officemates or our health goes bad or our relationships are on the rocks or our desire to pray is marred by too many distractions. We try to do everything right, but all the methods we do becomes a mess. Often, we stand before God in tears because we feel helpless and we believe we have tried everything. This is the time when God picks us up, loves us and forgives us, even though some of our mess gets all over Him. But just because we might mess up, we can’t stop trying to make ‘banana fritters’ for God or for others. Sooner it is in our trying that we will finally get it right. Often, we forget that the process of growing entails a lot of mistakes. If a father understands the process of growth, how much more will our Father in heaven do as much.

*Tatay is Filipino for Dad; Nanay is Filipino for Mom.

Why Does God Call the Imperfect and the Impulsive to become a Leader?

15 July 2009 Thursday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time
Genesis 3, 1-12

Have you ever done something in your younger years that you still regret? Perhaps you broke the precious vase your mother cherished because it was an heirloom. Or, you stole money from the wallet of your father. For fear that you will get caught; you do all sorts of things to cover up it up. But not just that, there are things we do and may be right, but it was done at the wrong time.

Take for example a soccer player who worked himself up for the game, and in the night prior to the sport, had broken his leg from a fight with another kid over his girlfriend. He forfeits his chance of playing, and at the same time, jeopardizes the years of hard work he’d done. Take another example of a good student, who with the lapse of judgment, got herself pregnant and was kicked out of school. These are a few things that we do without discernment.

Put yourself in Moses’ shoes. He saw a burning bush (which was not being consumed), heard Yahweh calling him, and then tells him of the cries of his people in Egypt. You already know the next line: Yahweh will likely call him back to the place that reminds him of his crime; and worse, become a leader that would require a confidence in oneself.

But his past ate whatever self-confidence he had. He saw an Egyptian maltreating a Hebrew. He got angry, and as Scripture had it, he “looked around, and seeing no one, slew the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” The sentence looked very simple and pretty, but if you imagine the whole scene, you get to see a murder scene at the beginning of a CSI Las Vegas episode. He hid the body on sand, hoping no one would know, but the next day, it was all over the papers. The Hebrews knew it. The Egyptians knew it. Perhaps, in his panic, he was not able to hide the dead man a few inches underground. Here is about murder and Moses’ attempts at cover-ups.

There are many ways to conceal our shameful acts. In high school, we are pretty sure that we have witnesses when someone cheats. To cover up, they would pretend they do not know, with an innocent look as that of Puss in Boots in the Shrek series. To hide their misdeeds, they would conceal the truth with a lie or a half-truth. Some would even devise a plan to erase the mischief. It is a matter of time that the truth catches up. And the sand would soon show its hidden corpse. It will not take long that we begin to feel the tug of our conscience, the pain of our guilt, and the disturbance of our hearts. For the Prince of Egypt, it means leaving the whole palace to a deserted place called Midian.

In our faith, it is not just Moses who murdered someone. We have St. Paul who persecuted the Christians and enjoyed the stoning of St. Stephen. We also have St. Macarius the Younger who murdered his father. In our archives we know the story of Augustine and Ignatius and many other saints who have sired children in their younger days and regretted their deed.

Will a dark or a sinful past hinder one to become a great leader? The answer is a great, NO!” The Lord can make a great leader out of a sinful person. The requirement is simple: Face the past and trust in God. Hiding a wrong does not erase it. It needs one to be vulnerable and accepting even if it is risky. But the more important thing is to remind ourselves what Paul said: the strength of God is shown in the very weakness of his instrument. As Paul was able to do things, not of his own, but from God’s grace. A leader must have a vision and a determined spirit. He must know where he would bring his people. But he must also have the heart. The compassionate heart that truly understands what goes inside other people’s hearts. A person who is aware of his past will understand the other person who also has it.

Are there born heroes?

14 July 2009. Tuesday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time
Exodus 2, 1-15; Psalm 69; Matthew 11, 20-24

The CW television series, Smallville, is now on its 9th season, chronicling the birth and youth of almost everyone’s hero, DC comics character, Superman. Its popularity can be attributed to our tendency to know the background of a hero. We usually seek to find extraordinary signs that stamp the person as a superhuman right from the beginning of their lives. For example, there is a painting of the Greek hero, Hercules, when he was young. It depicts young Hercules strangling snakes sent by Juno, before the eyes of Amphitryon and Alcmene and his father Jupiter in the form of an eagle.

The same way with Moses. We are fascinated by his birth and his youth because we know that he would soon rise as Israel’s hero. He would bring his people from the bondage of Egypt to the promised land. Much like Clark Kent in Smallville: he saves oppressed people. But many of these heroic stories are set in a stage wherein the villains are trapped in their own folly. This twist contributes to the narratives’ humor and sweet justice. In the first reading, Pharoah suppresses God’s people by killing all baby boys. Little did he know that his very own daughter would save the life of a Hebrew slave and worse, adopts him as her very own.

But the story does not end there. The reading tells us that when Moses was young, he killed an Egyptian who beat a Hebrew slave. Having been raised by his very own mother and sister, I am sure he was raised up loving his own kin. When what he’d done became known, he flees to the desert at Midian.

The very reason for our propensity to trace the beginnings of hero-hood is to see parallel events in his early days as well as in his older years. Moses had to build his credibility if he has to lead his people. First, showed his connection with his real kin by protecting them from the oppression of the Egyptian. We was already saving them from the start. Second, just as he would lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the desert on their way to the Promised land, Moses flees Egypt and lives with the Midianites. The would-be leader should know the life in the desert. In other words, the birth of Moses is God’s way of preparing him for the immense task of saving his people from bondage.

When we look back at our lives, we can glean at preparatory events that led us to where we are today. Our interests may have pointed us to the right degree in education. Our tragedies may have helped us become more resilient in facing more storms in our lives; or have taught us values and principles that we pass on to our sons and daughters. Though the future is uncertain, there are events that points to where we are meant to be in the greater scheme of things.

Fr. Adolfo Nicolas SJ, the Superior General of all of us Jesuits shared to us this food for thought. He said that God gave us six obvious directions: up, down, left, right, front, and back. But He hid one: inside. I think we are to learn reading the events in our lives more deeply in the view of its deeper meaning and in view of its direction. What does it mean? Where does it lead us? We may not find the answers instantly. Nevertheless when we continue to live out these questions, the answers will eventually show itself to us. However, in God’s time.

What's Jesus Advice to Travelers?

12 July 2009: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 6, 7-13 Instructions for the Twelve

Note: Taglish version below. If you're a Filipino please read the Taglish version. The story is appropriated to you. Thank you very much.

The episode in the Gospel today presents the sending of the Twelve on a mission to heal and to preach the Good News. The mission of the Twelve apostles was already prepared by the fact that Jesus specifically called them. Jesus gave them two primary instructions. First, that they take nothing for their journey. This means that a missionary must be poor, simple, frugal and trusting in God’s care. This is an old instruction to the present, “Travel light”. Traveling light facilitates mobility, availability and purity of testimony. In Jesuit life, we were trained to respond right away when we are instructed to go to another place for mission. We bring only the necessary things with us; trusting that whatever we need in our future ministry, we already have them there.

Second, that they anticipate opposition: in the eventuality that people will not welcome you, shake off the dust that is on your feet. This needs explanation. To shake the dust off your feet is an act of rupture known in the ancient world. The person doing this signifies that he wants to take absolutely nothing of what belongs to the city or country judged unworthy --- not even its dust. Kung sa Pilipino, “wala akong kinalaman sa inyo.” (In Filipino, I don’t want to have anything to do with you.)

Finally, Jesus sent them two by two. There is something important here: Jesus sent his disciples in pairs. Why two and not just one?

This is to ensure mutual support amidst difficulties. The Lord understands that it is difficult to be alone at work. It is worse when we have no one to talk to or to be with. And a much, much more difficult situation is when we have no one who listens and supports us.

Second, the quality of our service also depends on feedback from a co-worker. A husband-and-wife team is able to rear a family better. A rector and seminarian will be able to help each other grow in religious life. We are greatly helped when someone tells us that what we’re doing is correct or not. If we listen to feedback or evaluation, we will do well in our work. When feedback is given, we should not take it personally: it is about our work and not about our person.

Third, it also means that the mission given to us is, in a sense, a community or ecclesial undertaking. When we are sent to speak and to act, we are speaking and acting in behalf of Christ and the Church, not only on our own. Everyone is affected by what we do.

A lady once saw a lamp. She polished it and by rubbing it with cloth, a genie appeared. “Because you have freed me from the lamp,” the genie said, “I will grant you three wishes. But remember that in every wish, you’re husband will receive it three times more.”

“I want to have three billion dollars,” the woman said.

“Are you sure? Your husband will be three billion richer,” the genie warned.

“Yes, I am.” So it happened. The lady’s husband became richer.

“I want to be beautiful,” she said.

“Are you sure? Your husband will be thrice as handsome as Brad Pitt,” the genie said.

“Yes, I am.” And so it happened.

“The third wish?” The genie asked.

The woman said, “Please give me a mild heart attack.”

The point today is simple. We affect our neighbors whatever we do. We live out the commandments of the Lord, not just personally, but as a community. Test this: throw a piece of garbage in one corner of the street. Observe. Someone else will automatically throw something there, thinking it is fine to dump our trash there. By doing so, we create a culture or a mindset. We let them think that it is fine to throw garbage anywhere. That is why, if we want people to be environmentally conscious, we too have to be particular about setting a good example. We pray that we think first before we act. Because, it will not just affect our immediate neighbors but in the greater scheme of things, the worldwide community.

Mga Tagubilin sa Labingdalawa

12 July 2009: Ika-labinglimang Linggo sa Karaniwang Panahon
Marcos 6, 7-13 Mga tagubilin sa Labingdalawa

(This Taglish version is the homily today in TV 5's Humayo't Ihayag, a televised mass.)

The episode in the Gospel today presents the sending of the Twelve on a mission to heal and to preach the Good News. The mission of the Twelve apostles was already prepared by the fact that Jesus specifically called them. Jesus gave them two primary instructions. First, that they take nothing for their journey. This means that a missionary must be poor, simple, frugal and trusting in God’s care. This is an old instruction to the present, “Travel light”. Traveling light facilitates mobility, availability and purity of testimony. In Jesuit life, we were trained to respond right away when we are instructed to go to another place for mission. We bring only the necessary things with us; trusting that whatever we need in our future ministry, we already have them there.

Second, that they anticipate opposition: in the eventuality that people will not welcome you, shake off the dust that is on your feet. This needs explanation. To shake the dust off your feet is an act of rupture known in the ancient world. The person doing this signifies that he wants to take absolutely nothing of what belongs to the city or country judged unworthy --- not even its dust. Kung sa Pilipino, “wala akong kinalaman sa inyo.”

Finally, Jesus sent them two by two. There is something important here: Jesus sent his disciples in pairs. Why two and not just one?

Una, this is to ensure mutual support amidst difficulties. Naiintindihan ng Panginoon na mahirap mag-isa sa trabaho. Yung walang kausap o kasama man lang. Yung walang makikinig sa atin. Mahirap kung walang sumusuporta.

Pangalawa, the quality of our service also depends on feedback from a co-worker. A husband-and-wife team is able to rear a family better. A rector and seminarian will be able to help each other grow in religious life. Malaki ang naiitutulong kung may nagsasabi sa atin kung tama o mali ang ginagawa natin. Kung makikinig tayo sa feedback o evaluation, mas maiigihan natin ang ating gawain. Trabaho lang ito at hindi personalan. Ibig sabihin, kung na-eevaluate ang ating trabaho, hindi ibig sabihin ito ang ating pagkatao.

Pangatlo, it also means that the mission given to us is, in a sense, a community or ecclesial undertaking. When we are sent to speak and to act, we are speaking and acting in behalf of Christ and the Church, not only on our own. Apektado ang lahat ano man ang ating gawain.

May isang babaeng nakakita ng magandang lampara. Kinuskos niya ito at lumabas ang isang genie. Sabi nito: “Dahil iniligtas mo ako sa piitan ng lampara, tutuparin ko ang iyong tatlong utos. Ngunit, sa bawat utos, makatatlong kalaki ang makakamtan ng iyong asawa.” Sabi ng babae, “Gusto ko ng isang bilyong dolyar.” Sabi ng genie, “Sigurado ho kayo, yayaman ang iyong asawa ng tatlong bilyon.” “Opo” sagot ng babae. At nagkatotoo.

“Gusto kong maging maganda,” ang pangalawang utos ng babae. Sabi ng genie, “Sigurado ho kayo, magiging mas pogi ang asawa ninyo kay Piolo.” “Opo” sabi ng asawa. At nagkatotoo.

“Pangatlo utos po,” sabi ng genie. “Ito po,” panguna ng babae, “bigyan niyo po ako ng katamtaman na atake sa puso.”

Ang punto sa araw na ito ay simple lamang. May epekto sa kapwa ang anumang ginagawa natin. Lahat ng ginagawa natin ay isang pagsasabuhay ng mga utos ng Diyos at ginagawa natin ito, hindi bilang atin-atin lamang, kundi bilang isang komunidad. May kasama. At may ibang naaapektuhan. Magtapon ka ng basura sa kanto, unti-unti itong iipon --- mag-aakala ang iba na ok lang magtapon doon. Ipagdasal natin, na lagi nating pag-iisipan ang ating ginagawa at ano ang epekto nito sa ating bayan.

Can God Start with a Wrong to End with a Right?

9 July 2009. Thursday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time
Genesis 44, 18-29; 45, 1-5; Psalm 105; Matthew 10, 7-15

"Come closer to me," he told his brothers. When they had done so, he said: "I am your brother Joseph, whom you once sold into Egypt. But now do not be distressed, and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you." (Genesis 45, 3-5)

The story of Joseph is one of the most touching narratives in the bible. What the brothers did to Joseph was evil; but God has set things right. Now, Joseph made explicit that God has directed the course of events. And in order to save the line of Jacob from total destruction, God has preserved a “remnant” to deliver Jacob’s family from famine. Faith tells us that God intervenes in our history to preserve our lives from destruction.

It should be clear that selling Joseph was a grave sin; an act willfully decided upon by his brothers. They were jealous of him for a reason. He was the favorite, the eldest son of Rachel, Jacob’s most beloved wife. Worse, he had a high opinion of himself, confident and clever. To add gasoline to the fire, he told his brothers of his dream: that one day they would soon bow to him (granted that it would be fulfilled some day, there are things we would rather leave unsaid). So when the opportune time came, his brothers took hold of him and placed him in a water cistern. They planned to kill him. But Reuben stopped them; after all he was their brother. So when a caravan came, Judah came up with an idea to sell him at twenty pieces of silver, the going rate of a slave. They had a choice NOT to sell him, but they did.

However, God can straighten what initially was askew. There are things that first began wrongly but has been corrected . We can return to its trellis a vine that went to another direction. We can guide a person whose life is going awry. We can redirect traffic. We can correct a mistake. We can rectify a bad habit. We don’t want our loved ones to be in a bad situation, but IF they are already there, we can help amend it.

Thus, to reconcile with our past, Hannah Arendt said we need forgiveness. We may ask: what if Joseph was not sold to Egypt, would his family survive the famine? My answer is simple: I don’t know, but I believe He would in some other way. He could move around things. But there are questions without clear answers. Here for example, whatever we postulate, everything would still be hypothetical. The thing is, this fact happened: his brothers sold Joseph as a slave, and now they are bowing to Joseph as prince of Egypt.

To me this is where God wants all of us to be heading: to be truly a member of God’s family. We are His children after all. Since many of us are wayward, God dreams of the time when we get to be reconciled with Him, just as Joseph and his family were reconciled to each other. To straighten our way, we need God to guide us and at the same time, we too have to cooperate with him.

The Farmer and the Wheat: A Story

8 July 2009 Wednesday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time
Genesis 41, 55-57; 42, 5-24; Psalm 33; Matthew 10, 1-7

Once there was a farmer who pleaded with God saying, “Lord, would you let me have control of the weather for one year? I think that I could raise a good quality of wheat.” The Lord agreed. “Just tell me what you want,” he said. The farmer said, “I want sun,” and the sun came out. After sometime he said, “Let there be rain,” and rain fell. For a whole year, the farmer had sun and rain whenever he wanted it.

When the wheat was tall and ready for the harvest, the farmer beamed with satisfaction, but when he cut the first stalks of wheat, his heart sank. The wheat stalks were practically empty. “What did I do wrong?” he asked the Lord.

The Lord said, “You never asked me for strong winds and fierce storms --- these are the things that make tall wheat strong and sturdy. You asked only for what was pleasant, that was your mistake.”

Many of our prayers avoid the unpleasant. We pray that God will not send us challenges; we pray that we won’t be hurt or encounter the person whom we are angry with. But our Morning Offering does not pray for what is pleasant, but offers whatever comes including “prayers, works, and sufferings” of the day in union with the “Holy Sacrifice of the mass” throughout the world. So we ask the Lord, “What are the challenges you are going to send me today?” By doing so, we welcome opportunities to grow, the way a good crop needs strong winds.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus called each disciple by name and sent them out to the lost sheep and to proclaim the Gospel. However, serving the Lord needs courage and strength. It needs strong winds. It needs the storms and strife. A good doctor underwent a lot of challenges; the more he encounters a difficult case, the better. The brothers of Joseph undergoes obstacles for Joseph to see the depth of their remorse. Our faith deepens in the midst of temptation. Pure gold is tested in intense fire. Diamonds are products of carbon that is subject to great friction and polishing. This is how God forms us to become true disciples.

Do You Sometimes Wish to Change Your Name?

7 July 2009. Tuesday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time
Genesis 32, 23-33; Psalm 17; Matthew 9, 32-38

The first reading is about Jacob’s encounter with God. After sending his wives, children and possessions across the river, Jacob wrestles with a “man” until dawn. The “man” cannot prevail so he wounds Jacob’s hip, particularly the sciatic muscle. Before Jacob releases the man, he demands for a blessing, but instead he was given a new name. Jacob is now “Israel” meaning the “one who contends with God”. The “man” is eventually identified as God (v. 31). A change of name usually points to the transformation of the person. Thus, the naming of Jacob signifies that his character has been profoundly altered by the struggle. From this moment until his death, Jacob has become a person of integrity and honor.

Our names change in the course of our lives. At a certain point, the people around us call us a different name. In the Philippines, you get a term of endearment when you’re young. That is why it is funny that many of these names prevail even as the person ages. Examples of these are “Nonoy” “Nene” “Baby”; unfortunately they stick. So my brother “Nonoy” as we fondly call him is 34 years old and Baby my sister is 39. But primary school is different. We begin to get called by our real names. So, if someone calls me, Jessel, I know they are my classmates in grade school and high school. The revision points to a change of relationship.

However, every single revision carries with it a struggle. Students “gave up” their social lives to graduate. They squeeze in extra time from work to earn their doctorates. Couples ‘wrestles’ with God whether they are going to settle or to move the marriage date to some other day. Moreover, the additional titles included in our names, give your character a certain bearing. The pivotal experience of Jacob is a reshaping of his life: a reconciliation with his brother and his new life with his family.

The Gospel pushes the idea of the Old Testament to the future. If we are to become shepherd to the sheep in the fold or laborers in the harvest of the Master, we are to “change our names” --- to signify a new person. Many people in the bible changed their names like Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter, the Rock. Or like Saul the persecutor to Paul the preacher. Traditionally, those who marry change their names to signify a change in status. Even those who have consecrated their lives to God acquire a new name: from Sarah to Sr. Annunciata. Jesuits include a vow name taken from a Jesuit saint.

But the switch to a new person is not easy. People wrestle with God as Jacob struggled with Him. What would wrestling with God include? It will include our questions, all sorts of inquiries, the “whys” and “hows” of our lives. It will include questions without answers like “Why did my father died early?” “Why is my mom suffering from extreme pain? What did she do to deserve it?” It will also include a reconciliation, not just forgiveness in a relationship as Jacob and Esau will be doing in the next part of their story. But it may be a reconciliation of an experience such as tragedy with a belief in God’s love. Part of the struggle is our self-worth or our lack of confidence as Moses who would rather have Aaron to speak in behalf of Yahweh, or the prophets like Isaiah who says I am a person with an “unclean lips” (Isaiah 6,5). Garfield, the Cat, once said, “Why me, Lord?!” All these will include some form of bargaining with God. But in the end, we yield to God, and we ultimately trust him. That is why when we were baptized we bear the name of Jesus. We are not Christians for nothing.

How Does a Place Become Sacred?

6 July 2009. Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Genesis 28, 10-22; Psalm 91; Matthew 9, 18-26

How does a place become sacred? The first reading is a story of the origins of Bethel as a divine shrine. Fleeing Esau’s wrath in the land of Canaan, Jacob profoundly experiences God in Bethel. He uses a stone for a pillow and dreams of a stairway that led to heaven, a “gateway to heaven” (v. 17). In ancient times, they believe that there are gateways or places where heaven and earth meets. Jacob recognizes the sacred and consecrates the stone which he calls Bethel, the house of God. He then sets it up as a memorial stone. Later on, Bethel becomes an important cultic center of the Israelites until it was destroyed (2 Kings 23, 15). In the life of Jacob, this experience becomes pivotal. It provides the link from his previous life in Canaan to his future life in Haran where he meets his wives, particularly Rachel who became the mother of Joseph and Benjamin.

In our time, we build churches or shrines at places with divine significance. Where there is a religious experience such as apparitions or an event with spiritual import such as the birthplaces of holy persons, a shrine is built. The whole of Rome is sacred because Peter and Paul were martyred there. But the buildings do not make it sacred. It is the people who associate the place with a divine personal and communal experience and God who is the source of that experience, that makes it sacred. The people are the pilgrims who frequent the place and those who come for a very special intention. These sacred structures convey all sorts of memories that point to the existence of the God. It strengthens their faith, deepens their trust and enkindles their hope.

There are many ways in which we experience God. It may be a positive or a negative experience. People feel God’s presence in family, friendships and intimate relationships. Parents may point to childbirth. Artists attribute inspirations to the divine. Some would find the experience of forgiveness or the beauty of nature as an experience of God. On the other hand, some finally return to the Lord when they experience death and failure in their lives. Some turn to the Lord when they are afraid or anxious. However, the memories of these experiences can be enhanced by the places where they occur: the cafe where they first met, the park where friendship blossomed, the restaurant where the guy proposed marriage or even the mango tree on whose trunk the lovers carved their names. In our daily lives, whenever we associate profound and memorable experiences of God with a place, that place becomes significantly sacred.

And like the people of Israel, whenever they pray on the altar at Bethel, they remember Jacob. They remember that God has not abandoned them. The same way with the women in the Gospel. The woman with the hemorrhage will remember how she was healed when she touched Jesus’ tunic. The daughter of Jairus will remember how she was brought back to life when everybody else declared her dead. Or Jairus himself who witnessed God’s mercy.

It is easy to see God in specific shrines and sacred places in the world. But it would be a challenge to open our eyes to discover that every single space in the world and in the universe has been made holy by Jesus who became one like us. This is the truth of the Incarnation. For the ancient Israelites, there are places where the realms of heaven and earth meet; however, for Christians, heaven and earth meet in every single nook and cranny in our internal world and in the vast universe.

What Happens If you Reject God?

5 July 2009. 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 2, 2-5; Psalm 123; 2 Cor 12, 7-10; Mark 6, 1-6

Have you ever returned a different person to your birthplace? When we come home, we bring with us a wide array of experiences and encounters that changes us. We are not like the teenager we used to be, but someone with a different perspective and an accumulated knowledge. Usually, a tension happens in homecomings. Our folks treat us and expect us to be the same as before. However, they are also eager to see what happened to us from the time we left. When we show them we’ve changed, they usually react because they need to adjust to us. On the other hand, when we manifest the same behavior, they say that the years of separation did not bring about anything significant.

Psychological studies have it that our behavior adapts to different groups. If we are with our families, our gait remains the same. However, if we are reunited with our high school friends, we behave as if 25 years made no impact.

But in the Gospel today, Jesus flies out of this mold: when He returns to Nazareth, He shows what became of Him. He speaks, preaches and heals like a pro. His wisdom is exceptional. His deeds were mighty! It is therefore mystifying to His own people to see Him different from the Nazarene boy He used to be. “Is He not the carpenter, the son of Mary, the relative of this and that?” And because of this familiarity, they did not believe.

The same with our parents and relatives who could not take a “lecture” or an “opinion” from the boy or the girl who used to play at their backyards. The people of Nazareth cannot take the different Jesus in His early thirties who went to visit them, “Who is this to give us a lecture, whose relatives we know?” So Jesus said, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house." Thus, whether an advice and new systems are more effective, efficient and updated, prejudice will hinder one’s kin from listening. Jesus is rejected in His very own town.

The same way with the people in the first reading. The Israelites reject Yahweh, and so they are exiled to Babylon. But Yahweh sends the prophet Ezekiel to the people who have given up hope of the Lord’s guidance. The prophet is commissioned to those who thought that God has abandoned them because they are in a foreign land. He is to remind them that wherever they are, whether they have rejected God, the Lord will still be with them. To me, this is the point of the readings today.

A final word. St. Paul in the second reading tells us that we can manifest God’s presence in our lives through our weaknesses, limitations, hardships and the insults we bear. When we are devoid of human greatness, we are able to point at the very source of our strengths.

Case in point. My hometown is always devastated by calamities. The Philippines is visited by an average of 20 typhoons per year. Albay, my home province in the Bicol Region is prone to storms, volcanic eruptions and mudflows. Every time we are hit by a natural calamity, we try to recover. That means, to weather the storms 20 times per year. When asked where this resilience comes from, my people would only answer one thing: our faith. God’s presence in our lives is manifested by our lack.

Doubting within the Faith is Good

3 July 2009. Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle
Ephesians 2, 19-22; Psalm 117; John 20, 24-29

It is common sense that in order to understand another, we have to put our feet in their shoes. This I try on the feast of St. Thomas the apostle. We hear a lot about him; often negatively because he doubted. How could an apostle question the news that Jesus resurrected? But imagine: after the passing away of a family member, would you believe a declaration that he or she has resurrected and appeared flesh and bone? For a believer, a spiritual resurrection, yes. But flesh and bone? I guess not. We would even think that the bearer of the news is a wacko. To me, it is natural for someone like Thomas to be skeptical about it.

But there are many things about our faith stories that are unbelievable. We are gripped by a feeling of “awe and wonder” or of bewilderment. And in a world that is highly empirical, anything that is not logical is absurd. However, because we are rational, we cannot help it: we naturally probe into the mysteries we encounter in our life. An example is seeing the sound barrier.

Thus, we doubt in this sense: we ask questions, we look for answers. Louis Monden SJ said that “faith is not an uncritical acceptance of a set of abstract truths; rather it is the acknowledgement of God’s calling, not merely on the basis of human reasoning, but on the strength of this Divine vocation itself.”* Fr. Monden says that when we are in the state of bewilderment, we either 1) risk the leap of faith and seek from God a new understanding and insight or 2) we turn to ourselves and ask for proof and assurances. The open-minded person embarks on a quest for insights; and thus gains a faith that is strong and alive. On the other hand, the person who has a closed mind seeks insight because they already have their own ideas before anyone else and before they accept. They consider faith a problem and is often distrustful of it.

Thomas to me took attitude #1. He does not intend to distrust everything about Jesus whom He loved. He wanted to be with Him, even before Jesus’ death. He seeks understanding in the middle of his confusion and frustration. Who among us didn’t ask the question in the midst of our tragedies: If there’s God, why did He allow this to happen to me and my family? Thomas may have asked himself like the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “He was showing much promise, and then He died. All our hopes have been crushed! Why?” Job, one of the great believers in Scripture, asked that question too. People who lost a family member from a debilitating or a terminal illness or a freak accident have asked the same questions. Some are even still struggling with an answer.

When Jesus allows Thomas to gain that understanding by letting him put his fingers in His wound, Thomas gains a new insight into the very person of Jesus. He made the greatest confession of faith, “My Lord and My God!” That Jesus is Lord. That Jesus is indeed God.

If we look closely at how Jesus brought Thomas to this recognition of His person, His way is simple: Jesus begins from where Thomas is. This is consistent with His style. His parables used images that is too familiar to His people. For example, for a pastoral country, the shepherd and the sheep is clear to the imagination of the common people. To those whose staple diet is bread and the wine, to use images of the wheat and the vine help people understand divine truths. If Thomas --- or any of the disciples for that matter --- needed to touch and put his fingers into His wounds (who among us wouldn’t), then Jesus would do it. If only this would be the way to bring people to faith. And indeed, He does! He does not belittle the “state” or “level of understanding” we are in. He does not make us feel “ignorant” even, in reality, we are. In the painting, “The Incredulity of St. Thomas”, Caravaggio depicted Jesus holding Thomas’ right arm, leading his finger to His wound.

Think of the image of the first reading: when we embark on a journey to find answers to our questions, we are like “strangers and sojourners”. But when we find the answers or at least arrive at an insight, we find the dwelling place of God. Hopefully, while we browse through sources of knowledge, we begin to be enlightened about our world and our life. As we gain knowledge and reflect on our experiences, we would gain wisdom.

Today, as we also hear mass to show our devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, let me add. When we question within the faith, we are led to a greater understanding of Christianity. And because we understand that our faith is reasonable, we become convinced of its authenticity and truth. Our hearts become passionate about it that we burn in the love of Jesus. And when it burns, we hope that it could also enkindle other fires. Our faith then becomes stronger, meaningful, and much much more alive.

*On “Questioning Within” Faith edited from Toward a Theology of Christian Faith, ed. Christopher Mooney (Kennedy, 1968)

Will God Heal A Bad Person?

2 July 2009. Thursday of the 13th Week in Ordinary Time
Gen 22, 1-19; Psalm 115; Matthew 9, 1-8

In the Gospel, the malicious thought of the scribes provides a setting to highlight Jesus’ power to heal both our physical illness such as a paralytic and our spiritual malady that needs the forgiveness of sins. The physical healing of the paralytic becomes the visible proof of spiritual recovery.

In today’s Gospel, Matthew notes the efforts of the friends of the paralytic while Mark spotlights the efforts of his friends. Nevertheless, Jesus took pity on the sick because He saw the faith of his friends. Friendship heals. Many of us sometimes doubt the effectivity of prayer for recovery. Our loved ones are scattered all over the country --- or the world. When they get sick, we find ourselves helpless because we cannot be physically present to them. We can’t visit. We can’t send flowers. We can’t be with them. But the Gospel assures us that Jesus looks at our faith and he can heal those who are physically distant from us.

In addition, we often doubt whether the Lord would wish to restore to health a person who have ‘abandoned’ believing. What if the one who is sick declare that he does not believe in God, but he is a good friend of yours? What if the one in the hospital is a bad person, but a family member? Would God heal them too? I believe yes, He will. He sends the sun and the rain to the weeds and the wheat, to the righteous and to the sinners. But regardless of the person’s past, the Lord looks at our hearts and our sincerity. Love goes beyond weaknesses, limitations, status and negativities.