29 July 2009

Jesus wants you: to share in His mission

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Kgs 4:42-44; Ps 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15

The Gospel reading today is my favorite Gospel scene. In fact, Matthew’s version of the same story was the Gospel reading I chose for our diaconal and presbyteral ordinations, and for my Misa de Gracia as well. I see here my vision of ministry. I see here the God who asks me to be His collaborator. I see here the Eucharist for which I have been ordained to celebrate, preside and serve.

A little side note: John does not have a detailed Eucharistic account at the Last Supper. This scene in John’s Gospel is his Eucharistic account. “Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining…”

What then is the message of the Gospel reading this Sunday?

1. God provides for our needs. He takes care of His people.

Once again, the Gospel presents another image of God: a God who knows our concerns and takes care of us. Both the First Reading and the Gospel narrate miracles of the feeding of a multitude.

Every Sunday, or maybe even everyday, we pray the words: “Give us this day our daily bread...” How many times have we bothered to pause and consider how God has been fulfilling our prayers?

The Nursing Licensure Exam results were released just yesterday. I’m very sure those who passed, or who have family members and friends who passed, are rejoicing now, and hopefully thanking God for fulfilling their prayers. According to the news, the passing rate was 41.87%. What about the more than half of examinees who didn’t pass? A wise priest once said during a Mass at a university after a major exam: “If you fail an exam, maybe it means God wants to show His love for you in another way.”

2. Jesus defines what ministry means: a calling for His disciples to share in His mission.

He asked Philip to look for food for the people. Andrew brought to Him a boy with five loaves and two fish. After praying, he asked his disciples to distribute the food to the people. After the people had their fill, He asked them again to collect the leftovers. God provides for the needs of his people. And he asks his disciples to become the instruments through which His providence and care will be felt by the people.

There are also lessons here on how to do ministry, on how to collaborate with Jesus:

a. Seek to see with the eyes of Christ.

In last Sunday’s Gospel reading, we listened to how Jesus saw the crowd and his heart was moved with compassion (Mt 6,34). When Jesus asked Philip to look for food, the good disciple didn’t immediately grasped what was coming so he reasoned with human common sense, but on hindsight he realized Jesus was teaching him a lesson: deign to see as He sees.

I couldn't help but point out what I observe among those who pray for former President Cory Aquino, among those who attend the healing Masses for her intention. While they pray fervently for Cory's good health, they also pray for God's will to be done. This is also the message that comes from Cory's family and Cory herself. At this period of suffering and anxiety for Cory, and her family and friends, even as they pray for her recovery, they also pray to see as God sees, and so be able to accept whatever His will may be.

b. Be generous in sharing your little gifts.

And see how God will use them to reach out to and build up people. Jesus’ miracle happened when a young boy generously offered his baon of five loaves and two fish.

What are your talents? What are your gifts? What are the things that you are good at? Offer them to the Lord by sharing them to others. You just don’t know how your offering might turn out, what mighty deeds or miracle it will help bring forth.

c. Follow Christ’s instructions.

Jesus gave his disciples specific instructions to follow, which they did and so helped effect the miracle of the feeding the multitude. We can discern Christ’s instruction, Christ’s will for us, if we stay in constant contact with him through prayer, the reading of Scriptures and the teachings of the Church.

Discerning God’s will in prayer, Scripture and the teachings of the Church, is our sure guide that we won’t get lost in doing ministry and seeking the good of others.

What makes this Gospel story special to me? During my Long Retreat (the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises), my contemplation on this particular story led me to make my election, my most conscious choice of offering myself to God as an unworthy candidate for ordination. All my doubts and fears were cast away, and I was ready to embrace as much as I can – with the help of His grace – the entirety of His calling to me: to share in the mission of Jesus in bringing about His Kingdom on earth.

Until now, I could resonate with Philip, learning more lessons from Christ in doing ministry. I could see myself in Andrew, helping bring more people to Christ. I feel what the young boy may have felt, discovering the joy of sharing to others whatever humble gifts I have.

God provides. We are His ministers.

22 July 2009

For Ate Nuyen (1959-2009)

Bessie A. Stanley

She has achieved success
who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
who has enjoyed the trust of pure women,
the respect of intelligent men
and the love of little children;
who has filled her niche
and accomplished her task;
who has left the world better than she found it,
whether an improved poppy,
a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has always looked for the best in others
and given them the best she had;
whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.

Requiescat in pace, Ate Nuyen.

21 July 2009

Shepherds R Us

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6; Eph 2:13-18; Mk 6:30-34

The readings this Sunday are replete with references to shepherds. The Gospel says Jesus looked at the crowd and “his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mt 6,34).

Aside from presenting Jesus as the good shepherd, the readings also point to our own calling as shepherds ourselves, leaders – or to use churchspeak, servant-leaders. As disciples of Jesus, we are also called to follow in his steps of shepherding and leading others.

Chris Lowney, in his book “Heroic Leadership”, says: “We’re all leaders, and we’re leading all the time, well or poorly.” If you are a parent, you are a shepherd. If you are a kuya or ate, you are a shepherd. If you are a teacher, a coach, a manager, a team leader, you are a shepherd. If you are a friend, you are a shepherd.

So, are we leading well or poorly? On this note, I would like to suggest that we, shepherds and leaders, ask ourselves these questions:
1. Why am I doing this? (What are my motivations, my dreams, my desires?)
2. How am I doing so far? (How do I sustain myself?)
3. To whom am I accountable? (Who am I serving?)

I. Why am I doing this? (What are my motivations, my dreams, my desires?)

To be formed as a good shepherd, we need to clarify, then afterward seek to purify, our motivations, intentions and dreams.

Here is a story… (I got this from Fr. Pio Estepa, SVD, from the “Word in other words”.) A church builder was looking for a new foreman, so he called three prospective candidates from among the workers. He asked each of them only one question: “What are you doing?” The first worker retorted: “I am mixing cement for putting blocks tightly together.” The second replied: “I’m earning wage to feed my family.” The third exclaimed: “I am building a cathedral!” Which one do you think did the builder choose? He chose the third one, the one with the heart for the job, the one who sees himself as a proud part of something greater than himself.

Do you have the heart for the job? Jer 3,15 says “I will give you shepherds after my own heart”. If we want to be shepherds, then our hearts should be formed according to the heart of the Good Shepherd. From here flows our vision and mission, our dreams and motivations.

II. How am I doing so far? (How do I sustain myself?)

In the Gospel, Jesus invites his disciples who had just arrived from doing God’s work to “come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mk 6,32).

Taking time off to rest and reflect, enables us to gather strength and connect with God. The Chinese has a proverb for it: “One step backward, two steps forward.” Retreats, recollections and (for those familiar with the Ignatian tradition of spirituality) the daily examen provide opportunities for moments of quiet and reflection. Our Sundays are meant to be moments like these.

There is also a practical benefit for moments of quiet, prayer and reflection: we learn and grow. We get to acquire and master the three important learning areas in order to sustain our dreams and motivations:
1. learning to break free from unhealthy attachments;
2. learning to stand firm by our non-negotiable principles; and
3. learning to explore new approaches and ideas.

Jer 3,15 not only says “I will give you shepherds after my own heart" but continues it with "who will shepherd you wisely and prudently”.

III. To whom am I accountable? (Who am I serving?)

The First Reading contains a lamentation, a “jeremiad” against wayward shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord” (Je23,1).

1 Peter 5,1-4 also says: “Tend the flock of God in your midst, (overseeing) not by force but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

To understand better accountability, it is important to understand first the beginning and end (purpose) of Christian leadership…

Christian leadership begins as a sharing in the work of Christ. We are shepherds not on our own right or terms. We are accountable to the Chief Shepherd. We are servant-leaders of the Lord. And this is the will of our Chief Shepherd: to establish His Kingdom through the building-up of His community.

Christian leadership ends in the work of building-up persons and communities. Leadership guru, John Maxwell, in his book the “360º Degree Leader”, narrates how he found out his father’s guiding principles in building-up people (and thereby becoming successful in his businesses). He recalls using his father’s desk one day, and discovering a card on which the following were handwritten:
1. Build people up by encouragement.
2. Give people credit by acknowledgment.
3. Give people recognition by gratitude.

Leadership is more than just achieving goals, it is more about building-up people.

To sum it all: We are all shepherds. Our shepherding is a sharing in the work of Christ, the Chief Shepherd. We are all called to build-up God’s kingdom by leading and building-up His community, each in our own way.

Are you now ready to embrace the call of Christian leadership?

16 July 2009

Come to Me for My yoke is easy and My burden light

Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Thursday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ex 3:13-20, Ps 105:1 and 5, 8-9, 24-25, 26-27, Mt 11:28-30

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

Our Gospel passage today may be short but it does deliver its message.

1. Our embracing the Christian faith does not exempt us from the toils and difficulties of life.

In the First Reading, God gave Moses a very challenging task, one of epic proportion. God sets to liberate his Chosen People from slavery. For this to happen, Moses becomes His instrument, and the people have to co-operate in the work of salvation.

2. The burden of toil is not a punishment for our sins.

It is rather a liberating and life-affirming human act. Work gives dignity to the person.

I attended this morning a forum on the Philippine Human Development Report for 2008-2009. The talks presented how government and private sector efforts in the country and in the Bicol region are measuring up to the UNDP Millennium Development Goals. While some progress have been made, and the setbacks brought about by the global financial crisis have also been accounted, so many things still needs to be done. Yet the many people involved in the process are not in the least discouraged by the enormity of the challenge. Working for human development is meaningful work. Among other things, the employment opportunities that will be created by these programs will in turn raise not just the standard of living but the people's sense of personal dignity as well.

3. Our toil becomes easy and our burden light because Jesus is with us.

He is our friend, our companion in the journey of life. When we accept His friendship and lordship, we also accept His new life in us. His new life makes us see the world with new eyes. Grace enters the picture. And so, even the tediousness of toil becomes easy and work is seen according to its true nature: as a way to affirm our dignity, and a means of salvation.

4. Jesus' promise of a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light is also reflected in the feast we celebrate today.

Today we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel who made an apparition to St. Simon Stock in July 16, 1251, wherein she gave him the brown scapular. The scapular comes with a promise: "...whosoever dies wearing this shall not suffer eternal fire".

The wearing of the scapular signifies the devotee's pledge of loyalty to Mary who points to Jesus, her Son, and the devotee's spiritual communion with the global Carmelite community, with its long tradition of commitment to the work of sanctification stretching back to Old Testament times. The wearing of the scapular evokes the image of a holy burden, one that brings grace!

15 July 2009

An Open Heart, a Worthy Offering

Memorial of Saint Bonaventure, bishop and doctor of the Church
(Wednesday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time)

Readings: Ex 3:1-6, 9-12, Ps 103:1b-2, 3-4, 6-7, Mt 11:25-27

"I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” (Mt 11,25)

The Gospel passage doesn’t intend to mean the following:
1. It does not exalt the virtues of unknowing or ignorance.
2. It does not advocate a return to, or a preservation of, an idealized state of innocence.

Rather, the Gospel and the First Reading tell us about the importance of having a heart open and ready to accept God.

Moses in the First Reading received the most important divine revelation in the Old Testament: “I am who am”. In the Gospel, Jesus was lamenting over the people’s hardness of heart, for despite the miracles they witnessed, they were still unrepentant.

Second, the readings today, by extension, point to what comes next after faith has been informed by the knowledge of God: faith then becomes manifest in our life and deeds.

The God who revealed Himself as the “Great I am” also revealed Himself as the God who saves His people. Moses would become His chosen instrument. The revelation to Moses was a prelude to his mission.

A faith shown in a life well-lived, this was how St. Bonaventure lived his life. He was born in 1221 and died in 1274. He was known as the “Seraphic Doctor” and was arguably the greatest philosopher-theologian of the Franciscan Order.

St. Bonaventure was a man of great gifts and great humility. “At the age of 36, he was made General of his Order. He would have been made Archbishop of York by Pope Clement IV had he not begged the pope not too -- with great tears and entreaties. When he learned of Pope Gregory X’s resolve to create him a Cardinal, he quietly made his escape from Italy. On his way, he stopped to rest at a convent of his Order near Florence; and there two Papal messengers, sent to meet him with the Cardinal’s hat, found him washing the dishes. The Saint asked them to hang the hat on a nearby bush, and take a walk in the garden until he had finished what he had begun. Then taking up the hat with unfeigned sorrow, he joined the messengers, and paid them the respect due to their character.”

He was a contemporary and good friend of St. Thomas Aquinas. Here is another famous anecdote, this time about the two friends: Once St. St. Thomas visited St. Bonaventure's cell while the latter was writing the life of St. Francis. Upon opening the door, St. Thomas found him in an ecstasy. "Let us leave a saint to work for a saint", said St. Thomas as he withdrew.

The New Advent
encyclopedia describes how the two friends have been compared through the ages:

“Again, in attempting to make a comparison between Bonaventure and St. Thomas, we should remember that the two saints were of a different bent of mind; each had qualities in which he excelled; one was in a sense the complement of the other; one supplied what the other lacked. Thus Thomas was analytical, Bonaventure synthetical; Thomas was the Christian Aristotle, Bonaventure the true disciple of Augustine; Thomas was the teacher of the schools, Bonaventure of practical life; Thomas enlightened the mind, Bonaventure inflamed the heart; Thomas extended the Kingdom of God by the love of theology, Bonaventure by the theology of love. Even those who hold that Bonaventure does not reach the level of St. Thomas in the sphere of Scholastic speculation concede that as a mystic he far surpasses the Angelic Doctor. In this particular realm of theology, Bonaventure equals, if he does not excel, St. Bernard himself. Leo XIII rightly calls Bonaventure the Prince of Mystics: ‘Having scaled the difficult heights of speculation in a most notable manner, he treated of mystical theology with such perfection that in the common opinion of the learned he is facile princeps in that field’ (Allocutio of 11 October, 1890).”

May St. Bonaventure inspire us to make our hearts open to the knowledge of God and His will, and our lives a worthy offering to Him. Amen.

I'm now on Twitter

...and to commemorate this humble technological concession, I would like to share this post from http://faith-theology.blogspot.com/2009/07/now-on-twitter.html which, I think, indicates the state of whatever remains of my erstwhile objections:

The psychology behind Twitter is, I believe, best summed up in James Joyce’s story, “A Painful Case” (published in Dubliners, 1914). The story’s character, Mr James Duffy, is described in this way:

“He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances. He had an odd autobiographical habit which led him to compose in his mind from time to time a short sentence about himself containing a subject in the third person and a predicate in the past tense.”

Follow my account: http://twitter.com/rparjona

12 July 2009

What is your calling?

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Am 7:12-15; Ps 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14; Eph 1:3-14 or Eph 1:3-10; Mk 6:7-13

There are common threads that run through the readings each Sunday. Today is no exception. In the First Reading, we hear of Amos’ apologia for his being a prophet: “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me: Go, prophesy to my people Israel” (Amos 7,14-15). In the Gospel, we listened to how Jesus sent his apostles on a mission with particular instructions to follow. The theme of vocation runs through the readings today.

Whenever Catholics hear the word “vocation”, the first thing that comes to mind seems to be that of the priesthood or religious life, pagpadi o pagmadre. I would like to talk not so much about these specific vocations in the Church, but more on our common vocation as Christians, more along the lines of what St. Paul says in the Second Reading: “In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the one who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1,11-12).

For our reflection, I would like to focus on three vocations common to all Christians.

1. To represent Christ to the world.

The apostles were sent by Jesus to preach about the kingdom and do miracles in His name. St Paul writes in 2 Cor 5,20: “We are ambassadors of Christ, as if God were appealing before us.” Now, in order to be faithful to this vocation, we have to:

a. Practice detachment. The apostles were asked not to bring along food, sack, money, not even a change of clothes. I can only imagine, when they stretch their arms for healing, they must have been really… powerful. Now detachment can be best understood by knowing not just what we are detaching from but more so, what we are detaching for.

Here’s a story… A small caravan of merchants were traveling in the desert when they came upon a frail old man, obviously tired and barely able to walk. They stopped their caravan and took time to give him water to drink, food to nourish him and some shade. The old man, moved by their generosity, told them that he would like to give them a gift. He said that he would like to give them the contents of his bag. They could take as much as they wanted, for at the right time his gift would serve its purpose.

When they opened the bag, it was filled with sand. They were a bit disappointed. Not to embarrass the old man, each of them took some sand from his bag, in different quantities according to how much they gave credence to his claim. Some would have wanted more but were unwilling to let go of some of their goods to make space for the sand, many just stuffed them into whatever available pocket they had.

When they reached their destination, the sand in their pockets turned to gold, to their great amazement… and dismay. They wished they had let go of some of their goods to make room for more of that magic sand. But the old man and his bag were no longer there.

Herein lies the nature of detachment. In order to receive what will be given to us by God, we need to let go of some of our possessions to create enough space for it in our soul. And if it is grace from God, shouldn’t we devote more space for it? Our detachment then needs to cover more and more spaces of ourselves.

b. Stand firm in the face of opposition. Jesus’ instructions made realistic provision in case they meet rejection and opposition. In the First Reading, we first hear of the words of the priest Amaziah condescendingly trying to “shoo away” Amos.

Have you ever tried witnessing to your faith or to its moral demands? Have you ever tried it in the face of opposition or rejection?

c. Support each other. The apostles were sent by pairs, to make their witnessing to the truth they proclaim more convincing to the Jews, and also, many say, so they would be able to support and help each other.

Indeed, the most effective recruitment strategy of any organization is still the witnessing of its members in their mutual support and concern for each other. 2 Thes 5,11 says: “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do.” Is this also true in our friendships, families and communities?

2. To present Christ’s Gospel to the world.

There is a need for evangelizers, presenters of the Gospel to the rest of the world, because the world needs the Gospel. The world needs Christ Himself.

Last Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI released his third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth). It is a social encyclical and teaches about genuine human development in an era of globalization. Pope Benedict teaches: “The Gospel is fundamental for development, because in the Gospel, Christ, “in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals humanity to itself” (CIV 18; GS 22).

Our presenting of Christ and His Gospel may be done in a variety of ways: in words and deeds and artistic expressions. How many times have we been moved or inspired by a painting, a picture, a film, a poem, a song? The lyrics of the song “In Him Alone” comes to mind whenever the subject of people’s great need for Christ comes up.

“When will you cease running,
in search of hollow meaning?
Let His love feed the hunger in your soul
till it overflows with joy,
you yearn to know…

In Him alone is our hope,
In Him alone is our strength,
In Him alone are we justified,
In him alone are we saved.”

There is another vocation, I would like to mention. This one comes from Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate. Quoting Pope Paul VI in his landmark social encyclical Populorum Progressio (The Progress of Peoples), he says…

3. “Progress is a vocation” (CIV 16).

Indeed, we are called to progress: to live better lives than generations before us, to make ourselves better, to attain perfection. Christian life is the way to perfection. Yet this very progress “is incapable, on its own, of supplying its ultimate meaning”.

“The vocation to progress drives us to ‘do more, know more and have more in order to be more’ (PP15). But herein lies the problem: what does it mean ‘to be more’? Paul VI answers the question by indicating the essential quality of ‘authentic’ development: it must be ‘integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man’ (PP 15)”(CIV 18).

The Church recognizes as our common vocation the promotion of integral human development: the good of every person and the whole person.

One final story… (I got this from Fr. Bel San Luis, SVD.)

Towards the end of the Second World War, the German army was retreating and the allied forces entered a badly battered Italian village. Some entered the village church. They saw the statue of the Sacred Heart toppled down from its pedestal and was broken to a thousand pieces.

To boost the morale of the people, a Catholic soldier reconstructed the statue. Piece by piece he pasted it together with the exception of the two hands, which were so damaged they could not be reconstructed.

In their place, the soldier who truly understood his faith, made a plaque (caratola) on which he inscribed the following words: “You are the hands of Christ.”

According to legend, the caratola is still there telling us graphically what it means to be a Christian.

Brothers and sisters, “we are the hands of Christ”, this is our vocation. We are the hands of Christ not so much because He needs us, but because we need Him to be His hands.

The difficulties and sufferings that may come in the pursuit of our calling will still come to us as difficult and painful, but they will be less daunting to endure for Christ promised to make them all worth it. Our vocation, in whatever way it is expressed in each of our lives, is that which gives meaning to our existence, direction to our life, and that genuine happiness that comes as a fruit of our labors at satisfying our need for self-actualization and transcendence.

So, what is your particular vocation? What is Jesus calling you to do?

Pope Benedict XVI signs his third encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate

07 July 2009

Everyone Hates Celibacy!

By Rev. Fr. Robert Barron

A few weeks ago, in the wake of the Fr. Alberto Cutie scandal, an editor at CNN.com asked me to write a short piece (800 words) on the meaning of celibacy from a Catholic standpoint. So I composed what I thought was a harmless little essay, laying out as simply and straightforwardly as I could why the Church reverences celibacy as a spiritual path. I purposely avoided a number of the hot button issues surrounding the matter, and I pointedly insisted that any explanation of celibacy that involves a denigration of sex and marriage is inadmissible. Well, I sent this article off to CNN, rather proud that it would appear in such a prominent venue.

Then they started coming, first on my own e-mail: critiques, as vociferous as any I’ve ever received. A little taken aback, I went to the CNN.com site and found the article posted on the main page—and followed by nearly a hundred comments, 98 of which were sharply negative. About a week later, the article was picked up on Anderson Cooper’s blog site and once again, it was accompanied by unanimously disapproving commentary from readers. It appears as though this matter of celibacy strikes a nerve! And thereupon, I think, hangs a tale.

What were the criticisms, you ask? Well, they came from two basic camps, the evangelical Protestants and the radical secularists. Over and over, Protestant critics informed me that celibacy had no biblical foundation, and several of them pointed to a passage from the fourth chapter of 1st Timothy to the effect that “deceitful spirits” will one day invade the church of Jesus and “forbid marriage.” Well, the last time I checked, St. Paul, a celibate, told his people that, though he wouldn’t impose celibacy on them, he would prefer that they remain as he is (1 Cor. 7:7), and Jesus, a celibate, told his disciples that some people “make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom,” that is, they eschew marriage, and that he would urge those who are able to embrace this sort of life to do so (Matt. 19:12). I don’t know, but that seems like pretty good Scriptural support to me! As for first Timothy, the Catholic Church forbids marriage to no one. In fact, throughout its history, the church has condemned as heretical those movements—Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Catharism—which did look upon marriage and sex as aberrational. No one in the church forbade me to marry; rather, I chose not to marry in order to pursue another path of love.

From the secularist side, I heard ad nauseam the claim that, in defending priestly celibacy, I was out of touch, otherworldly, didn’t have my feet on the ground, etc., etc. Well, yes. At the heart of my argument was the assertion that celibacy is a living witness to a supernatural way of love, to the manner in which the saints live in heaven. When he was challenged by the Saducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, Jesus said, “those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels” (Lk. 20: 34-36). The Catholic church recognizes that even now certain people should live as eschatological signs of this world to come, as embodied witnesses to a transcendent kind of love. It struck me that the vehemence of the critiques I received on this score flowed from the extreme challenge that celibacy offers precisely to the secularist view of the world. Another standard charge from the secularist camp was that the practice of celibacy has led and continues to lead to the sexual perversion of priests and the abuse of children. It frankly amazes me how persistent is this delusion. Though it’s been said thousands of times already, it evidently bears repeating: the overwhelming majority of sexual abusers of children are not priests and are not celibates. To say that celibacy is the cause of sexual abuse is about as reasonable and statistically defensible as to say that marriage is the cause of sexual abuse. Please don’t get me wrong: the sexual misconduct of way too many priests is a serious problem indeed, and one that the church has to address at many levels. But it’s a mistake to correlate it to simple-mindedly to celibacy.

A criticism common to both the evangelicals and the secularists is that celibacy was a cynical invention of medieval Catholic bishops and Popes eager to consolidate their hold on church property. If priests were married, you see, their wives and children would inherit the wealth that would otherwise have gone into the coffers of the church. I don’t doubt for a moment that there might have been some hierarchs who thought along those lines, but to reduce the discipline of celibacy to such commercial considerations betrays a pathetic grasp of the spiritual history of the human race. Celibacy has been embraced by religious people trans-historically and trans-culturally. Certain Hindus, Buddhists, Sufi Muslims, and Jewish Essenes have, over the centuries, abstained from marriage for spiritual reasons, convinced that it ordered them to God in a unique way. Why can’t the same be said of Catholic priests?

I mentioned above that the very venom of the reactions to my article is telling. In a certain sense, celibacy is meant to annoy, puzzle and unnerve us, for it witnesses to a dimension of existence that we can’t directly see, that remains alien to our experience and our ordinary categories of thought. Celibacy make a lot of people sputter and scratch their heads. Good.

click the title to view the actual article plus the comments

05 July 2009

What does it mean to be a prophet?

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ez 2:2-5; Ps 123:1-2, 2, 3-4; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Mk 6:1-6

In the Gospel story today, Jesus went back to his hometown after attaining relative fame as a teacher and miracle-worker. But instead of warm acceptance, he was rejected by his town mates, prompting him to quote a probably well-known saying during his time: "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house" (Mark 6,4). In the First Reading, the Prophet Ezekiel wrote about how he was called by God and sent to the “rebellious house” of Israel.

So what does it mean to be a prophet?

1. To be a prophet is to speak the word of God.

2 Peter 1,20-21: “Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God.”

To be a prophet is…
to be seized by the power of God;
to be sent on a mission;
to speak the Word of God.

The word of God is never a matter of personal ruminations or philosophical conclusions or private opinions. Speaking the word of God always comes from the prompting of the Spirit of God.

2. To be a prophet is to take sacrifices… knowing that God will make them all worth it.

2 Chronicles 24,19: “Prophets were sent to them to convert them to the LORD, though the people would not listen to their warnings.”

To be a prophet is…
to risk disappointment and unpopularity... but assured of victory;
to risk pain and suffering... but assured of consolation;
to risk even one’s life... but assured of living life fully.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “God calls us not to be successful, but to be faithful. Leave the long term success to God, but do what you are called to do.”

Here is an increasingly common case: A mother would come to me confessing how it pains her to see her son/daughter living-in with a partner, or just civilly married. She has been trying so hard to convince them, to no avail. After offering words of comfort and assurance, I would then ask: “What about the other family members?” The common answer: “They don’t care.”

To be a prophet is to care if sins are being committed.
To be a prophet is to mind if people are going the wrong way.
To be a prophet is to be concerned if injustice is being done.

And so, you will hear the Church speaking prophetically against abuses of power, destruction of the environment, extrajudicial killings, cheating in the elections, etc. You will find the Church promoting land reform, good governance, better education, etc.

A case in point: the Church’s pro-life stand. Many people suggest that the Church should soften its stand; that the Church should not interfere with the State in controlling population.

It’s not about regulating what married couples should do in the privacy of their bedrooms. It is about encouraging relationships that are faithful, loving and life-affirming.

It’s not about keeping kids ignorant about sex. It’s about teaching them what is right and wrong, the consequences of actions, the responsibilities that freedom brings, and that things are wrong not because society or the Church define them as wrong but because they are, in the first place, bad and harmful to persons.

It’s not about curtailing choice. It's about teaching respect for life in all its stages.

We believe that life begins at conception. Yet we also know of so many who do not pause to think whether the pills they’re taking or the operation done to them kills the life already formed at conception. Even among good church-going Catholics there is a culture of silence to ignore, to not bother or be bothered about this grave sin against life.

The Church cannot lower its standards nor point to less than the ideal. For it is not for the Church to replace God’s will because many finds it inconvenient. When the Church teaches about Christian perfection, she cannot be like business and government which occasionally adjust standards and targets to project good efficiency and success rates. One should aspire for things that are beyond one’s reach. Otherwise what is heaven for?

To be a prophet is to be pro-life. So, how pro-life are you?

3. To be a prophet is every Christian’s task.

Here is a story I learned in grade school. It is about four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

“There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when actually Nobody asked Anybody.”

The tasked of being a prophet is Everybody’s task. When we became Christians, we also assumed to follow Christ’s role of priest, prophet and king.

How is your being a prophet so far?

Here are some ways by which we can exercise fully our being prophets:

1. Listen to God speaking – in the scriptures, in the teachings of the Church, in prayer.
2. Be a prophet first to oneself: Do I live what I believe? Do I practice what I preach?
3. Challenge others with love, out of love. Fortiter in re, suaviter in modo. Be firm on principles but gentle in admonition.
4. Witness to hope – that things will change for the better. By doing so, we also witness to the power of God at work in things.
5. Always turn to Jesus, especially when disappointment sets in, and most especially when success sets in. He is our model, exemplar and guide.

Fellow prophets, let us pray for each other, encourage each other, and, if need be, challenge each other so we may fulfill our duty of following Christ faithfully as priest, king and prophet.