Homily on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood
of the Lord of Year A (John 6:51-58)
June 26, 2011
By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
LAST Sunday (June 19), Federico Pascual raised a rhetorical question in his column Postcript, “Why spend P400 million in rehabilitating Macabalan Port in Cagayan de Oro when a French contractor of modular ro-ro (roll-on, roll-off) ports has a standing offer to build a new wharf and passenger terminal for only P143 million?” Palace watchers described this as “patently disadvantageous to the government,” while former Senator Nene Pimentel calls in “plain and simple highway robbery.” And what motives people to do this—greed? This calls to mind the twists and turns in the court battles among lawyers over the coconut levy in the Philippines. “The levy,” as Neal Cruz put it in simple terms, “was imposed and collected by the government for public purposes to benefit coconut farmers. It is clear that it is a public fund. The clarity and simplicity of it is clear to laymen; it is only lawyers who make it confusing.” It being an enormous sum, many want to take hold of it. In an earlier column, Cruz asserts: “Greed is still the top sin of Filipinos. And ironically, the richer they are, the greedier they become.” Hence, “while there are billions of sequestered pesos and dollars still out there waiting… there will always be ‘commissioners’ who will try to negotiate a compromise for a piece of action. Treasure hunting is a popular endeavor in the Philippines. It is easier to dream of instant riches than to work hard for it. And the coco levy… [is] like the fabled Yamashita treasure that continues to boggle the imagination and whet the appetite of scores of treasure hunter.”
Greed is the exact opposite of what today’s feast of Corpus et Sanguis Christi implies—which is sharing so others might live. But that is going ahead of what should be noted first. Today’s Gospel is the second part of Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life (John 6:35-58). Whereas in the first part (vv 35-50), the nourishing heavenly bread is the teaching of Jesus, in this second one (vv 51-58), it is the Eucharist. Though both parts speak of giving life, they differ in that, while in the first part eternal life is given through belief, in the second it comes from feeding on the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. Thus, this section has a Eucharistic theme, and exclusive so. Raymond Brown notes two impressive indications that the Eucharist is in mind. First, the narrative stresses the eating of Jesus’ flesh and the drinking of his blood—which cannot be taken as a metaphor or symbolically. Rather, if Jesus’ words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood are to have any favorable meaning, they must refer to the Eucharist, reproducing the words of institution in the Synoptics. Second, what Jesus says in v 51 (“The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world”) resembles the Lucan form of the words of institution (“This is my body which is given for you”), and most likely preserves the Johannine form of the words of institution. Thus, for John, eternal life is given to those who communicate the body and blood of Jesus.
The objection at the beginning of this section, “how can he give us his flesh to eat” (v 52) probably reflects the Jewish criticism of the Johannine Christian community ritual, since Jews were forbidden to eat meat with blood (Lev 17:10-11). But as the whole section indicates, the eating of his body and drinking of his blood have nothing to do with cannibalism. Rather, they are about sacramental communion. After giving up himself in the sacrifice on the cross, he will give himself in the sacrament. And considering that in the Old Testament, “the body and blood” expresses human life, the Evangelist most likely implies that in the Eucharist the communicant receives the whole living Jesus. In other words, Jesus is totally present in the eucharistic bread and wine that the believer receives. In the sacramental communion, Jesus shares his very life with the communicating believer: “The man who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remain in me and I in him” (v 56). No wonder, Paul declares to the Christians in Corinth, “Is not the cup of blessing we bless, a sharing in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread we break, a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). For John, however, there is first of all a mutual indwelling in the Eucharist: Jesus remains in the Christian, and the Christian remains in Jesus. Moreover, just as the life of the Son and the Father is one (cf John 14:10), so the man who receives the Eucharist shares the very life of God himself.
However, to receive the Eucharist is not only to be involved in the very life of God himself. If one shares in the life of the Son and the Father, he is joined to the whole body of believers. It is in this sense that Paul, in the second reading, speaks of the sharing in the body of Christ. “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, many though we are, are one body, for we all partake of one loaf” (1 Cor 10:17). In receiving the Eucharist, Christians are joined to Christ and to one another. They are established as one community in which Christ is a communal possession. Consequently, Christians who receive the Eucharist cannot be greedy or engaged in monopoly, still less take what do not belong to them. To the contrary, by the very act of sharing in it, they commit themselves to share their life and possession with other members in the Christian community. The rich, for example, cannot continue receiving the life of God without sharing their wealth with the poor, for that would be anomalous.
In light of this, a Christian cannot but make a crusade for the writing off of foreign debts by poor countries; indeed, in the light of the meaning of the Eucharist, wealthy nations and institutions must right the wrong in the international economic order in which the poor get poorer, and the rich get richer. On a positive note, this teaching reminds us of a plan, made some time ago when Jojo Binay was still the mayor of Makati, of the rich barangays in Makati to support the poor barangays. We were told that the mayor came up with a new budget sharing, named “Paluwagan sa Barangay.” It was reported that under this scheme that responded to the appeal of the poorer barangays, each barangay in Makati would submit its list of priority projects to the city council. But it would be the engineering and public works department that would select the projects, and the size of the budget allocated for barangay-based projects would determine the number of projects to be approved. The cost of one project of a barangay was to be equally divided among the city’s 32 barangays, including the rich ones. This was Makati’s way of improving on the current practice in which the budget of each barangay is determined by its real property tax share and internal revenue allotment (IRA), the poor barangays receiving small budget allocation.
The Church of the Risen Lord
Homily on the Feast of Ascension A (Mt 28:16-20)
June 5, 2011
By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
ONE time, I happened to meet a man in his 50s who has gone to various Christian denominations and sects. In the end, he settled for a born-again community that he felt answered his affective needs. I recalled that he believed all religions were the same, and so it did not matter to him which religion was true. What was important for him was that the particular sect he had chosen assured him that he was saved. This line of thought that all religions are the same—this is rather common even among the educated. Of course, when one scans the spectrum of religions, he may observe that they appear to be all the same—they teach about God (under different names) and good behavior, they observe certain rites, and call everyone to conversion. No wonder, some people would advocate pluralism in religion. They would tell us that all religions are of equal value, and are ways to salvation, and what is decisive is that one follows the religion he professes. Indeed, others go even as far as saying that what one believes does not matter; what is decisive is what he does.
It would seem, however, that today’s Gospel does not accept that line of thinking. From a Christian point of view, the most decisive act of God in history is his revelation in Jesus. As we noted in the previous Sundays, that revelation was unfortunately rejected. Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom of God and his demand of conversion fell on deaf ears; in fact, his enemies crucified him, and they thought that was he end of him. But God was with him. The Father raised him from the dead. His cause—the Kingdom of God—was entirely correct, and the resurrection vindicated him. Hence, the mission he began must be continued. That is why, in today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples the so-called Great Commission: “Full authority has been given to me both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:18b-20a). Since Jesus could no longer personally continue his mission, because he has already ascended to the Father, the Christian community where his Spirit lives on must carry on the cause. The disciples must proclaim the Gospel, and those who accepted it have to be brought to the community through faith and baptism. That is why the Church continues to send missionaries to bring people to the fold.
Does this mean that we will have to reject other religions? There is no question about it—today we are in the age of inter-religious dialogue. We can no longer go back to the time when Christians had almost nothing good to say of other religions. Nowadays, we seek dialogue, trying as we do to explore areas where we can agree with believers of other faiths, mindful as we are that God can speak, too, through other religions. Of course, in the practical level alone, dialogue is important. For us, Filipinos, dialogue with our Muslim brothers is of paramount significance. In the words of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II), “(1) our history as a Christian people has pitted us against them in a long series of religious conflicts, and lowland Filipinos still suffer today from its psychological and cultural effects. And (2) we are part of the Asian region and Asia contains the bulk of the world’s Islamic countries. We need, therefore, to take a closer look at inter-religious dialogue as an imperative of mission.” Part of this dialogue that has to be encouraged is the dialogue of life. The PCP II was happy to note that “in the areas of Mindanao and Sulu where Muslims and Christians live and work together, a dialogue of life is taking place. In daily life they witness to each other to their own religious values and both contribute to the building of a just society.”
But inter-religious dialogue cannot mean a compromise of the Christian uniqueness and the command of Jesus to carry on his work. As the Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Dominus Iesus (On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church) says, “it would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if these are said to be converging with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God.” x x x “With the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ, God has willed that the Church founded by him to be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity (cf Acts 17:30-31). This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church has for the religions of the world, but at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism “characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that ‘one religion is as good as another’” If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking, they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.”
Therefore, even as the Church advocates inter-religious dialogue, she cannot surrender the mandate that Jesus gave to the Church in today’s Gospel. She must preach the Gospel to all nations, and those who accept it must be baptized and admitted to the historical embodiment of the Kingdom of God. “Following the Lord’s command (cf Matt 28:19-20) and as a requirement of her love for all people, the Church ‘proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without faith Christ who is the way, the truth and the lie (John 14:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (cf 2 Cor 5:18-19), men find the fullness of their religious life.” Says the Declaration: “Indeed, the Church, guided by charity and respect for freedom, must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, the certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ.”*