31 October 2015

THE ORDINARY AND UNHERALDED CLOUD OF WITNESSES

ALL SAINTS
revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 john 3:1-3; matthew 5:1-12

during the world war ii, england had a great difficulty keeping men in the coal mines. it was a thankless kind of job, totally lacking in any glory. many joined the military… something that would give them social acceptance and recognition. 
to motivate these men to remain in the mines, winston churchill delivered a speech to thousands of coal miners stressing the importance of their role in the war effort. he told them to picture the grand parade that would take place when ve day came: first would come the sailors of the british navy, who had upheld the grand tradition of trafalgar. next would come the pilots of the royal air force, who had saved england from the dreaded german luftwaffe. the army that had stood tall at the crises of dunkirk would follow. and then would come a long line of sweat-stained, soot-streaked men in miner’s caps, who had helped those ahead of them stay in battle.

a portrayal of the grand parade at the end of time would be something similar: first would be the apostles, then the doctors of the church and the founders of religious orders… bringing up the rear would be thousands of «ordinary» men and women who lived lives of humility and service in JESUS’ name and for his sake. these are the «all saints» who make up the great «cloud of witnesses» and whom we honour today. 

the first reading from the book of revelation depicts this «parade»! st john has «a  vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue» who have «washed their robes… in the blood of the lamb.»
these unheralded and unknown saints are those who have lived the beatitudes… those who have discovered the blessedness of being poor in spirit, of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, of showing mercy and even of experiencing persecution because of JESUS’. 

today’s feast is a reminder that GOD’s call for holiness is universal; all of us are called to live in his love and to live the beatitudes. 
will i strive to be holy in my daily and ordinary life? will i live the beatitudes… in dependence on GOD?

24 October 2015

LORD, I WANT TO SEE

XXX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
jeremiah 31:7-9; hebrews 5:1-6; mark 10:46-52

in pastor steven albertin’s office, hung a modern picture… a maze of colours and shapes. he realized this picture contained some profound artistic message, but was never able to figure it out. 
one day, adam, a kindergartener, came to his office, saw the picture, and asked: «do you see what i see?» the pastor asked: «do you see something in that picture? i don’t.» «pastor, can’t you see him? it’s JESUS hanging on the cross.»
the pastor stared at the picture, tried to find the image of the JESUS hidden in that maze of colours and shapes, but couldn’t see JESUS anywhere. 
slowly adam moved his finger along the picture: «there, pastor, is JESUS’ face, his arms outstretched on the cross.» the image began to appear. there hidden «behind» the colours and the shapes was the image of the crucified JESUS. 
adam helped a blind pastor to see the suffering messiah.

in this sunday’s gospel, JESUS helps blind bartimaeus see the meaning of suffering! 
in mark’s gospel, this healing appears at the end of the section on discipleship… in which the main theme is suffering, and JESUS thrice predicts his passion and death. each time his disciples fail to understand; they remain blind. for instance, in the verses preceding this text, JESUS makes the third prediction, and immediately james and john ask to sit beside him in his glory. mark uses the bartimaeus' healing as a theological device to open the eyes of the disciples to the meaning of suffering.

mark contrasts the disciples with the blind «beggar». JESUS puts the same question to bartimaeus that he put to james and john in the preceding verses: «what do you want me to do for you?» but where james and john wanted to advance themselves, bartimaeus asks only to see. after his encounter with JESUS, he sees again, and follows him on the way… to jerusalem. bartimaeus—the paradigm of the ideal disciple—has understood the meaning of suffering in the life of JESUS and of a disciple. 


like pastor albertin, like JESUS’ disciples, we fail to see JESUS as the suffering messiah; we fail to understand that suffering is an essential part of discipleship. like bartimaeus, we sit by the side of the road of life and struggle to make sense of suffering. 
may we, like bartimaeus, call out to JESUS to heal us, and may we follow him on the way to jerusalem to life.

17 October 2015

LIVE THE MISSION

WORLD MISSION SUNDAY
isaiah 60:1-6; romans 10:9-18; matthew 28:16-20

at an international seminar on evangelization, participants spoke about their strategies to spread the gospel: preaching, printing pamphlets, distributing copies of the bible, social development work, and so on. one young african girl was quiet throughout the discussion. when all had finished giving their brilliant suggestions, she said: «when we think a village is ready to receive CHRIST, we send a good christian family to live in that village.»

living the mission… that is the «method» to spread the gospel! 
pope francis says as much in his world mission day message: «being a missionary is not about proselytizing or mere strategy; mission is part of the ‘grammar’ of faith.» he adds: «all… are called to proclaim the gospel by their witness of life… are called to live the mission. for them, the proclamation of CHRIST… becomes their way of following him.»

this is the fiftieth anniversary of the second vatican council document on mission (ad gentes). its now famous statement—«the pilgrim church on earth is missionary by its very nature»—reminds us that mission is not just for a few members of the church. all of us are called to be «on mission» wherever we are so that people can know and love CHRIST. we are all invited to walk the streets of the world with our brothers and sisters, proclaiming and witnessing to our faith in CHRIST and making ourselves heralds of his gospel.


does my life proclaim CHRIST… and make people know and love him? how will i live the mission?


10 October 2015

QUENCHING THE THIRST FOR «MORE»

XXVIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
wisdom 7:7-11; hebrews 4:12-13; mark 10:17-30
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/101115.cfm

in the success syndrome, steven berglas writes that individuals who «suffer» from success have a sense of aloneness. he cites the case of dennis levine, who was convicted of insider trading in the 1980s. levine’s wife asked him why he needed the money from insider trading; he had no answer… but said when he earned $100,000, he hungered for $200,000; when it was $1 million, he hungered for $3 million. 
berglas comments that people, who find that $200,000 did not make them happy, strangely never ask why they think $300,000 would make them happy… but keep craving for more. 


none of us are big-league cravers, but all of us are constantly seeking more. this desire for «more» is at the heart of today’s liturgy.
the young man in the gospel comes to JESUS seeking something more. he has kept the commandments, and led a righteous life. yet deep down he knows something is missing. how can he fill the void in his heart?
JESUS gives him the solution: «go, sell what you have, and give to the poor…; then come follow me.» 

the man goes away sad. he fails in his quest for «more» on three counts.
first, he had many possessions. the issue is not his wealth but his possessions and attachment to them. he is «rich» (vs. the biblical «poor») not because he is wealthy but because he is so dependent on himself and his resources. 
second, he lived selfishly. he was rich but was unwilling to share his resources.
third, he fails to understand the incomparable grace of following JESUS… a treasure which far surpasses all his possessions. 

all of us constantly want more. 
how do i fill this void: with things? with gadgets and gizmos? with habits and addictions? with people? 
what are my «possessions»? (it might seem strange but even clinging to my worries and frustrations; unhappiness and inferiority; my self-perception… could well be «possessions» which encumber me!)

steven berglas was asked to prescribe a cure for the success syndrome. he said: «what’s missing in these people is deep commitment or religious activity that goes far beyond just writing a check to a charity.» what’s missing, in a word, is GOD!
blaise pascal puts this beautifully: «there is a vacuum in the heart of every man [and woman]; a GOD-shaped vacuum which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by GOD, the creator, made known through JESUS»!

03 October 2015

STAYING COMMITTED

XXVII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
genesis 2:18-24; hebrews 2:9-11; mark 10:2-16

the elderly couple in the check-out line at the mall were talking about their upcoming golden wedding anniversary. the young cashier piped in: «i can’t imagine being married to same man for 50 years!» the wife replied: «well, honey, don’t get married until you can.»

this little exchange succinctly conveys what marriage is… two persons—not only imagining—but also and especially deciding and pledging to stay in a relationship forever. marriage is a commitment and covenant (and so is religious life and the priesthood!).

this is the core of today’s first reading and gospel.
in response to the pharisees question about the legality of divorce, JESUS argues that moses’ permission for husbands to divorce (cf. deuteronomy 24:1-4) was «because of the hardness of your hearts.» he, then, turns to the biblical ideal of marriage… as GOD intended it «from the beginning of creation».
in GOD’s original plan (cf. first reading), marriage is not about male superiority but about communion of love between complementary partners. this love—because it is a reflection of GOD’s love—is a commitment with a beginning and no end. 

there will be problems in marriage (and in religious life/priesthood). pope francis alluded to these: «families have difficulties. families will quarrel. sometimes plates can fly. and children bring headaches. i don’t want to speak about mothers-in-law… but difficulties are overcome by love.»


there are four p’s to overcome the mega «p»:
 be positive: appreciate and affirm the other; 
 be polite: show respect and courtesy for the other, being careful about what-how-where we say things;
 be playful: make fun and humour a mainstay in relationships;
 be prayerful: spend time praying together.

adoniram judson, the famous missionary wrote: «the motto of every missionary… ought to be ‘devoted for life’.» married couples are missionaries of love!

ps: on a lighter note: henry ford had some sage advice when asked on his fiftieth wedding anniversary for his rule for marital bliss and longevity: «just the same as in the automobile business, stick to one model.»