Homily on the 6th Sunday of Year C
February 14, 2010
Literally taken, philosophy means love of wisdom. The ancient Greeks took philosophy seriously, because they knew of its practical consequences for daily living. When the word philosophy comes to mind, however, many people associate it with being clever, but especially with being able to argue cleverly. Thus, in the Philippines, we have the untranslatable word filosopo, which is often linked to the ability to win an argument in a way that baffles the mind. But this is far from its original meaning. Philosophy is really about asking why. A philosopher is not content with seeing things as they are. Indeed, he is not satisfied with asking why. He even dreams of things not yet tried, and he asks—why not? He goes beyond what ordinary people think of what is reality all about, what is true, good and beautiful. This is one reason why it is important to be a lover of wisdom.
But if we consider how most people think, it may be noticed that they are content with what appears to them, or what other people tell them. They hardly inquire into the whys and wherefores of things. We observe, for example, that what many call good and important revolves around personal achievement and possession. The common question is: what have you got? A pretty or handsome face? A colorful career? Prestige? At the President Estrada Impeachment Trial in 2000-2001, for instance, a lady senator known for dispensing legal wisdom in an inimitable fashion, seemingly browbeat a witness lawyer, Ma. Jasmin Banal, with a suggestion that the normal career path of law graduates from the University of the Philippines (UP) is to choose a high-paying job over a low-paying one. In other words, for the lady senator common sense teaches that UP law graduates are motivated primarily by monetary self-interest in their career. Of course, one wonders if this is true of most professionals. But the fact that we admire people who accumulate wealth, even if the way they acquire it is morally questionable, says much of how we look at the realities of living.
A person who loves real wisdom sees realities differently. While most people admire those who cleverly amass wealth, a lover of wisdom can say with Honore Balzac that behind a great wealth is a crime. Though we look up to those in high places, we can always observe with Lord Acton that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Although one may assume that the normal career path for lawyers is to engage in mercenary activity, we can recognize real wisdom in Ma. Jasmin Banal’s testimony that one can leave a high-paying job and take a low-paying one for a noble purpose. People like Banal can make such decision because they have a better insight into the realities of living and of things. Such a better insight is demonstrated by Jesus in today’s Gospel. To be sure, a man who does not look beyond what appears could be baffled by what the Lord said: “Woe to you rich, for your consolation is now. Woe to you who are full; you shall go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, you shall weep in your grief” (Luke 6:24-25). This is obviously surprising, eve as we ourselves are flabbergasting for kowtowing to wealthy and corrupt politicians, even if we know they take advantage of us, keep us in ignorance and even fool us. This only shows that in comparison with real wisdom, the way we look at realities in life, our own human wisdom, is really foolishness (1 Cor 1:27). So, when we trust our own wisdom, we are fools like “barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth” (Jer 17:6, 1st Reading).
For what is real wisdom, and who is the lover of real wisdom? To be wise is actually to be more than a philosopher; to be wise is to see things as God sees them. God views them differently: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). Of course, the wisdom of God appears foolish. Consider, for example, the following demands: “Go and sell all you have and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21b). “Offer to resistance to injury. When a person strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer the other” (Matt 5:39). “Do not worry about your livelihood, what you are to eat or drink or use for clothing” (Matt 5:25). Surely, anyone who does these things people will think is out of his mind, just as it is unbelievable for a national public official to hear that a young lawyer would leave a good-paying job in favor of a low-paying one. This is not the way the world behaves. Yet, that is the wisdom of God, and a lover of wisdom knows that what the world considers valuable is actually worthless before God. “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” (Eccl 1:1). Ultimately, what is important is trust in God: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream” (Jer 17:7-8a). Such a man is truly wise.
Homily on the 5th Sunday of Year C
February 7, 2010
Who are qualified to be ministers of the Word of God? If we go by popular standard, we would think that only those who are clean of heart deserve to be called ministers. If this is the way we think, it is because, when we are in the realm of religion, we seem to approach the problem of ministry by considering who God is, and once we are able to identify him, we start talking about the person who is fit to serve him. For many, God is all-powerful, without sin, and incapable of error. We attribute to him almost all the qualities that are exactly the opposite of ours. And so, we believe that the stronger, the less sinless and the more correct a person is, the more he deserves to be God’s minister. So true is this that when we know of someone’s skeleton in the closet, we immediately question his qualification to preach the Gospel. Typical of this line of thinking is the assertion of a former ambassador, made at an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel, that the Church has no business speaking about morality in politics, unless it first cleans its own backyard.
Today’s readings, however, give the lie to that impression. In the 1st Reading, Isaiah describes himself as a man of unclean lips (Isa 6:5). In the 2nd Reading, Paul tells us that he was formerly a persecutor of the Church, and hardly deserves the name apostle (1 Cor 15:9). Finally, in the Gospel, Peter, who denied Jesus thrice, is described as telling Jesus to stay away from him because he was a sinful man (Luke 5:8). And yet, these three men were proclaimers of the Lord’s Word. In light of this, it would be wrong to say that only those who are good deserve to be preachers, for in these three we have almost the exact opposite of goodness. This point is worth emphasizing because many of us think that, because the Church is holy, it does not have a place for sinful people. How often we distance ourselves from those we perceive to be sinful members! We do not accept them as members of religious organizations or faith communities in the parish! Yet, Isaiah was chosen by God to be a prophet to Israel for many years; despite his betrayal, Peter became the first head of the Church; and Paul became an unrivalled missionary to the known world at that time.
What gives? If we go back to the readings, we will notice that there is one thing common among the three: they experienced the Lord. The Lord touched their lives. Isaiah was probably an aristocrat, because he could get near to the King. One time he went to the Temple, and there he was overwhelmed by a vision of God. He saw him, and that experience touched his life. From then on, he became a proclaimer of God’s Word. Paul had a vision of Jesus, while he was on the way to Damascus. Before he entered the city, he was struck by a vision, and from then on, he became a different man. In the Gospel, Peter encountered God not in a place like the Temple, but in an event. He experienced the presence of the Lord in the abundant catch of fish. The point of all these is that we will truly become spokesmen of the Lord only if we have an experience of him. (No wonder that, because of this lack of experience of his presence, many of us look for him in astrology, feng sui, born-again sects, transcendental meditation, and new age movements, and we consult all kinds of charlatans just to encounter him.)
But how do we know we had an experience of the Lord? The authenticity of our experience, at least from the standpoint of the readings today, is verified in two acts. First is the consciousness that we are sinful, and therefore ability to accept the sinfulness of others. ”Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man,” said Peter (Luke 5:8). “Of these [sinners],” confessed Paul, “I myself am the worst” (1 Tim 1:15). Indeed, it would seem that only a person who is able to see the depth of his sinfulness can say that he has truly experienced the presence of God. The opposite is completely true. If a person comes parading that he is very good, and criticizes others for their need of conversion from sin, and sets himself apart from sinners, he has hardly any credentials to a claim of a personal encounter with God. And second: having experienced the Lord and having gone into the depth of his sinfulness, one begins to proclaim the Word of God, and nothing can stop him from doing it. He may even leave everything that made him secure. Isaiah left the comfort of wealth and the company of powerful men. On the contrary, he even experienced persecution because of the Word he proclaimed. Having seen the vision on the road, Paul became a Christian and nothing could stop his missionary activity. “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). He left the comfortable life of a Pharisee, and in his ministry as missionary, he was often flogged, stoned, and placed in dangerous situation.
The vocation to be a minister of the Word requires more than a vast reserve of accumulated knowledge about the Scriptures. It would seem that if few of us persevere in proclaiming the good news and have the zeal in doing the mission, despite our initial interest and training, it is because the Lord has not yet touched us. That is why, no amount of seminars and lectures can motivate us to be zealous ministers, unless we are first given this initial push, this divine touch. What matters in the end is not really who we are. It does not matter whether we are persecutors of the Church and public sinners, or whether we are equipped for the ministry or not. What matters is the finger of God, the touch by the Holy Spirit. Of course, there are people for whom this is not acceptable. They are even afraid to commit mistakes; they want to be like God so that nothing bad could be said of them. But such a life misses the whole point of what life is all about. We cannot be like God through our own effort in the first place. What is ultimately decisive is that we allow the Spirit to move us. And after that, nothing in us really matters, not even ourselves.
Homily on the 4th Sunday of Year C
January 31, 2010
By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
The Philippines is basically an agricultural country; it is not an industrialized one. But it is a country where most people are suffering because, as the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines noted, realities of injustice are embedded in its political, economic and cultural systems. Take for example the economic condition, which is tragically characterized by an appalling mass poverty. “Such an abnormal economic situation is partly attributable to inequitable ownership of assets particularly land, to an oligarchic power system, to misconceived economic policies, to the prevailing economic structures, and to population growth which tends to be concentrated among the poor, increasing the competition among them for land and unskilled jobs. Thus economic gains do not ‘trickle down’ to the poor.”
If Jesus had a pro-poor program, we, as a Christian community, should follow suit by opting for the poor, denouncing how unjust the situation is and proclaiming that, as a sign that the Kingdom of God has entered into our Philippine society, such an abnormal economic condition has to be reversed. According to the Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Church, “The fight against poverty finds strong motivation in the option or preferential love of the Church for the poor.” When he addressed the people of the sugar plantation in Bacolod City on Feb 21, 1981, John Paul II said: “The Church will not hesitate to take up the cause of the poor and to become the voice of those who are not listened in when they speak up; not to demand charity but to ask for justice. Yes, the preference for the poor is the Christian preference!” And we have to live what we preach!
But ever since John Paul II came to the country in 1981, has the economic situation been reversed? Has the cause of the poor been taken up? If the condition has even worsened, it is partly because it is scary to make this option, as this would entail the loss of much privilege and power. Indeed, even to preach it is to invite disaster. To denounce our abnormal economic system is to court opposition. In today’s Gospel (Luke 4:21-30), this is what Jesus himself got: the people rejected him, after realizing the implication of his words that so much captivated them. In Luke’s theology, this hostility has been adumbrated by the prophecy of Simeon: “Behold, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many within Israel , and to be a sign that is disputed” (Luke 2:34). The opposition to Jesus will culminate in his crucifixion, a fate that, according to the law, a false prophet deserves (Deut 18:20-22; Jer 23:9-30).
In the Bible, denunciation of such a situation and living a life that witnesses to that denunciation is the task of a prophet; he is commissioned to stand up and tell the word of the Lord “against Judah’s kings and princes, against its priests and people. They will fight against you” (Jeremiah, 1:18-19, First Reading). We are supposed to be a prophetic people, but who would like to preach a gospel that would bring in one’s oppositionists, harassers, enemies, and assassins? Is it not dangerous to tell people and live accordingly that as a nation we should “do away with greed, selfishness, unhealthy competition and the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the few” in order to have true economic development? Who is ready to “infuse moral principles that put face of God and the many faces of the poor” into our “economic relationships, policies, programs and structures” (CBCP, Exhortation on Philippine Economy) and testify to it by the life one lives? And who likes to live like Jeremiah who practiced what he preached? Who would be happy to be called an ingrate, leftist, and be harassed, indicted and imprisoned for espousing such a cause? Who likes to die like Jesus himself at a young age at that, when there is so much opportunity to live, and live comfortably? Who is prepared to part with his sumptuous meal, his car of the latest model, his unrestricted travel, his signature clothes, his fat deposit in the bank?
Oh, how much better to save one’s skin! And various are the ways of doing it. One is to align one’s self with the oppressors of the poor, even waltzing with them. Who knows?—one would even receive thick envelopes that contain millions, get promoted, and live luxuriously. After all, no one will bother about the collusion, because power and wealth are on one’s side; the protest of the poor are never heard, anyway. As long as one is on the side of those in power, he would even be allowed to bark, provided he does not bite. Another is simply to stop talking. One does not give a damn about economic injustice, about lopsided economy, about progressive pauperization. Speak no evil! By doing so, one does not create opposition and enemies. Why eat threats for breakfast unnecessarily? Still another is to look the other way, and probably the best recourse is to offer people bread and circuses. The poor will forget about their hunger; they will be entertained. Of course, many of us take one or two of these lines of action, and still profess to uphold the values of Christianity. After all, one can always reason out that there is no use in uttering the Gospel to the poor, knowing that it would ultimately put the preacher six feet below the ground. A live cat is always better than a dead lion! How much better to be accepted, to be honored, especially by the power-that-be in our political, religious, economic and cultural world!
No wonder, we suffer from a lack of real prophets! Indeed, one wonders whether prophecy has died in our midst.
Homily on the Third Sunday Year C
January 24, 2010
By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
When President Arroyo made her inaugural speech at the Quirino Grandstand on June 30, 2004, she presented what would be her legacy when she steps down after six years. Among other things, she said: I shall have created 10 million jobs, developed 1 million hectares of agribusiness land; I shall have balanced the budget; power and water will be regularly provided to all barangays; Metro Manila will be decongested with economic activity; elections will no longer raise a single doubt about their integrity; I pledge to bring you a pro-poor agenda; I pledge to reduce spending; I will crackdown on wasteful and abusive officials. All these promises are supposed to be accomplished during her six-year term of office. Now that her term is almost done, how far have these promises been fulfilled?
The second segment of today’s Gospel (Luke 4:14-21) fulfills a programmatic function for the Gospel and the Book of Acts, as it serves as a preface to Jesus’ public ministry, in which Jesus made his inaugural speech. What was Jesus trying to say? Since he was quoting from Trito-Isaiah, which promised freedom to the Jewish exiles in Babylonia in 6th century BC, he was actually saying that the liberation of his people is being fulfilled in his person, in his talk and in his walk: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to released the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Thus, Jesus assumed the role of a liberator of the underprivileged to which the downtrodden, the blind, the imprisoned debtors and the poor belong.
Jesus’ cause is the liberation of the underprivileged. One wonders whether Philippine Presidents fulfill the promises they made at their inaugural speech, but Jesus really carried out his program, as can be seen from the rest of Luke’s Gospel. Though his friendship with some rich people, on scholarly grounds, could be put into question, there is not a single iota of doubt that his life was dominated by a ministry to the poor. His words of consolation, his preaching of the kingdom, his words of forgiveness, his healings and exorcisms, his table fellowship were almost without exception directed to those who belong to the lower rungs of the Jewish society. While Presidents may not take seriously the pledged they have made during their inaugural speech (probably there being no intention to fulfill them), there is scarcely any question that Jesus was consistent with what he said in his programmatic talk: the poor was his cause.
One major problem with the way we lived our Christianity in history is that instead of taking up again the cause of Christ, many of us have so made Jesus an icon that we have almost forgotten his cause. Of course, to make him an icon is reasonable enough. He was no ordinary man; he was really God, and early in the history of the Church, there were already the rudimentary beginnings of the tradition of worshipping him. “Therefore God exalted him in the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11). But whether this should be the dominant feature of the life of Christianity, this could be a subject of debate. There should be celebration of Christian life, that can be easily conceded, but first and foremost, there ought to be a Christian life worth celebrating about, and that life could only be patterned after the life of Christ that is dominated by a ministry to the underprivileged.
The poor are the losers in human history. They are cursed, dominated, taken advantaged of, fooled, degraded, not counted, oppressed, used, subjugated, pawned, forgotten, disenfranchised. In a human society where they are a majority, one wonders whether God can be happy about their lot. In the Old Testament, God takes the cause of the poor: “I have witnessed the affliction of my people… therefore I have come down to rescue them” (Exod 3:7-8). In a Christian community, greater honor is to be given to those from the underside of history. As Paul, in the 2nd Reading, puts it, “God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to the lowly members, that there be no dissention in the body, but all the members may be concerned for one another” (1 Cor 12:24-25).
Clearly, if it is to continue the cause of Christ, the Church has no alternative but to take up the cause of the poor. She should be a Church of the poor, as John XXIII has already noted, a poor Church. As a Christian community, it is incumbent upon us to make an option for the poor in a situation in which the bulk of humanity is poor. As John Paul II said in Centesimus Annus, the Church “has become more aware of the fact that too many people live not in the prosperity of the Western world but in the poverty of the developing countries amid conditions which are still ‘a yoke little better than that of slavery itself”, he has felt and continues to feel obliged to denounce this fact with absolute clarity and frankness” (n 61). We do not only talk, we walk our talk. Jesus’ life was a witness to his cause: he was poor, he had nothing to lay his head on, he died poor, and in solidarity with the oppressed. The lifestyle of both clergy and laity ought to be a witness to poverty.