SUNDAY GOSPEL REFLECTION Second Sunday of Advent (B): John the Baptist as Advent Companion, By Fr. Baltazar Obico, OFM

Introduction: There is something in the Christmas season that the church has difficulty dealing with: the preparatory character of Advent to Christmas. The ambiguity is seen here in the church as two contrasting colors signifying contrasting moods juxtaposed here. We have the bright colors of Christmas thus effectively glossing over Advent as a necessary prelude to Christmas. The market place has dictated the dizzying tempo of the season. John the Baptist was relegated to obscurity and Santa Claus was thrust into prominence as the symbol of the season – a symbol of abundance, fecundity and generosity, someone well fed (overeaten), well clothed (overdressed) and bubbling with joy.

Gospel: Today the gospel gives us the figure of John the Baptist to help us prepare toward a meaningful, fruitful celebration of Christmas, not only joy brought about by material abundance but the joy of being reconciled with God and with one another. What Santa Claus is, John the Baptist is not. John appears eccentric when you look at his wardrobe and diet. He wears a garment of camel hair with a leather belt. His food is locust and wild honey. It is not the “eat all you can” burst of buffet meals in fashion nowadays. His ascetic dress and wild diet is associated with the wilderness. He breaks its silence with his unsettling call to repentance. His own life is his message. It is in the desert that they become God’s people. It was in the desert that they intimately experience the providence and nearness of God, something they did not realize when they were enjoying the comforts of Egyptian civilization. Gradually it dawned on them that they are one people, not 12 tribes of Jacob.

Word:
(1) Call to repentance. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia. It carries a double connotation of changing your mind and behavior. It signals a need to go beyond your mindset and allow a new mindset to drive new action. Repentance begins by entering into the desert far from the madding crowd. Desert experience would lead us to the appreciation that if people survive it is not because of their own talents and efforts but because of God’s providence. Until we enter into solitude and do some inner work, we will always be a one-sided creation of other people. It is not a question of simple remorse but positive commitment to the way shown him by God. It does not mean simply going toconfession. It is asking why I transgressed God’s commandments at all.

(2) Bear fruits of repentance. One of the dangers of equating repentance or metanoia to simple confession and admission of guilt is the absence of change behavior. The same transgressions are repeated. True repentance means new behavior and a new way of living. If Christ were to come to us in a meaningful way, if Christ is to be more than “ho ho ho and a bottle of rum” we Christians have to change our minds with a corresponding change in behavior. The inner voice says we are children of Abraham and that is enough. No need for repentance for they claim physical descent. They are part of the 56 chosen people and the fact of their birth takes precedence over inner repentance.

(3) New life in Jesus. Metanoia or repentance literally means a 180-degree turn. It is turning back to God from a life centered on self. A life centered on oneself loses its spiritual character and is reduced simply to its material dimension. Without being conscious of it, the materialistic orientation of one’s life makes us consumeristic, greedy and selfish. This is the root of our transgressions of God’s commands. In our consuming desire to satiate our material satisfaction we alienate ourselves from our true selves. No amount of material things can fully satisfy us – not the 12,000 Burberry shirt nor a hundred thousand Hermes bag nor a thirty thousand iPhone. Not even your Maserati sports car which can get you into trouble with traffic enforcers. It can only lead to compulsive addiction to branded products.

Brothers and sisters, Santa Claus as a Christmas symbol of generosity, sharing and abundance becomes meaningful only as a result of our response to John the Baptist message of repentance. It is not abundance as such that makes this season joyful. Imagine you have all you wish for in your Christmas list from small gadgets and the latest accessories to more expensive amenities but you have no one to share it with. Imagine how pathetic it would be if you are alone for Noche Buena at Solaire or Resorts World. It is abundance shared with others that make this season joyful. We cannot luxuriate in the midst of want and misery. Santa Claus is no longer in the liturgical calendar.

About Fr. Tasang and his other reflections…..

SUNDAY GOSPEL REFLECTION: Solemnity of Christ the King By Fr. Baltazar Obico, OFM

Today’s feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pius XI when all of Europe had nightmare memories of what they called then, “the threat of war,” a time of an explosion of hatred, blindness and a torrent of blood that wiped out most of Europe at that time. The swastika, a disfigurement of the cross, was ready to lurch across Germany. Piercing the sound of these ideology hate-filled speeches, the Pope’s message of justice, peace and love was lighting a new spark. In initiating this feast, the church wanted to take our worship of Jesus from the privacy of our hearts and to proudly proclaim his public sway as well.

II. GOSPEL: The gospel may sound inappropriate; the image of Jesus being indicted by Pilate does not evoke the image of a King. Yet in the course of Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus the latter was in majestic command of the interchange. Pilate was at loss everytime Jesus responded to the nature of his kingship.

At the crucifixion, the bystanders and one of the criminals executed with Jesus, know what it means to be a king and so they taunt Jesus with the demand that He use His power to save Himself. For Jesus, however, a king is not one who saves himself, but one who saves others. It is in the mocking words of the scoffers and in the inscription put over the cross, that we are faced with the true nature of Jesus’ kingship. Save yourself and us, is another temptation for Jesus. Just as Jesus had earlier challenged his vocational identity three times and offered him a less painful option, so is Jesus is being invited to save himself. But with His lack of response to the scoffers, Jesus clearly remains steadfast in fulfilling his divine will. He is resolutely committed to God’s plan which includes death.

Only in the powerlessness of the cross can he demonstrate that authority, ultimately rescuing criminals, scoffers and religious leaders. Refusing the voices of temptation, Jesus defines for us what sort of King he really is.

This means Christian faith is not a power game that follows the rules and logic of most power plays we know – retaliation, competition, self-protectiveness and the like.

III. WORD: The Kingdom of God here on Earth.
1. Power is service, not for dominion and domination. To be a king is to serve, not to be served. Stories of DAP and PDAF, of short projects and misappropriation, point to the misuse and abuse of power. One aspect of our life that need evangelizing is in the political. We observe that many of us would like to seal off our political life from influences of faith and allegation in the guise of church and state separation. Politics relates to the exercise of power in society. It is a new world here on earth, not in heaven as understood, “in the sky above,” that is why we don’t pray, “we go to heaven,” instead we pray that “God’s Kingdom come here on earth…” Salvation did not mean escaping earth, being indifferent to politics. It is rather living a meaningful life on earth.
2. The Kingdom as an end to power relationship. Relationships based on power are oppressive…they are dehumanizing for both oppressor and the oppressed. Sometimes we hear, “Ginagamit lang tayo” when someone uses somebody, when you treat him like a thing. When the powerful imposes his will on the powerless. The latter becomes less free, less responsible, less of a creature. The oppressor, likewise demeans, lording it over. I observed this paradigm operating within our parish setting; parish leaders sowing fear among parish workers as they find their servant-leaders more to be feared than love and respected.
3. The Kingdom is offered to all, it is not only for the friars but for all believers regardless of their church affiliation, membership and religious sentiments. Our understanding of our vocation is only within the parameters of the Church and hence we are preoccupied with dogmas and doctrines, rites and rituals that separates us from other people of goodwill. We need to situate His vocation within the universal context of the Kingdom of God. Hence we are willing to set aside doctrine and ritual differences in order to work with everyone in shaping the Kingdom of God where there is justice, peace and love.

About Fr. Tasang and his other reflections…..

SUNDAY GOSPEL REFLECTION 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time by Fr. Baltazar Obico, OFM

INTRODUCTION: The African hunters have a clever way of trapping monkeys. They slice the coconut in two and in one half of the shell cut a hole just big enough for a monkey’s hand to pass through. They place an orange in the other half and then fasten together the two halves. When the unsuspecting monkey swings by and smells the orange, it slips its hand through the small hole, grasps the orange and tries to pull it through the hole. The orange is too big for the hole. The persistent monkey continues to pull and pull never realizing the danger it is in. As long as the monkey keeps its fist wrapped around the orange, the monkey is trapped. The only way the monkey can save its life is to let go of the orange and flee.

GOSPEL: The Gospel narrative tells us about a rich man enthusiastically telling Jesus, the Good Teacher, that he has observed all the commandments from his youth. Jesus, looking at him, loved him. It is more than admiration, respect or sentimentality. It is a gut-wrenching concern one has for a loved one about to take his own life. All that is important in a moment like that is to get the gun out of his hands and help him discover a reason to live. (It is as if you tell the monkey to let go of the orange if you want to be free.) “You lack one thing; go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor and you will have treasures in heaven; then come and follow me.” Wholehearted discipleship cannot take place until the ties to the man’s possessions are broken, ties so intense and so enslaving that he can only hang his head and walk away. Possessions have a peculiar and insidious way of becoming our masters. Precisely because they hold the potential for good and evil, they easily seduce us and make us their slaves.

Jesus, in speaking to the disciples, is frank about the unusual difficulty facing a rich person who wants to live faithfully under the reign of God. The statement that it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eyes than for a rich man to enter the kingdom in fact expresses a total impossibility. The disciples, no doubt thinking that riches are material signs of God’s blessing (a notion occasionally expressed in Jewish literature and certainly alive and well in Western Christianity) are thoroughly perplexed by what they hear, and ask in exasperation, “Who can be saved?” Jesus replies, “In God all things are possible.”

WORD: Today we are facing the crisis of prosperity. Compared to most humans in this planet, most of us are comfortable, secure and quite healthy, amazingly so. The worldview that formed us in the last forty years is one where there is no limit to our growth, our achievements as well as the earth’s resources. (Unlimited calls and unlimited texts.) Things which have been luxuries for kings have become commonplace. In our globalized economy, every luxury is available locally, nearby. We can shop online. Easy availability soon becomes expectation, then eventually habituation and finally entitlement. Wasn’t life always this way? Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? We created a prosperity gospel, a religion of limousine liberals who see no conflict between the Gospel and amassing huge personal fortunes for their private lifestyles. Splurge and indulge. Savor every second of your stay in this planet. In the last forty years, it has become easy to get rich easily. Whereas before, human history has connected money with actual work, effort and sacrifice or productivity; then for the first time in history money becomes associated with money – money earning money without any effort at all. A case of financial incest. The making of money is in itself the work and even the most admired and envied work.

The reason behind why spiritual traditions in general and the Gospel in particular are against owning material possessions is that because it gives a false sense of security, alienating us from our spiritual origins. When we accumulate wealth and possessions, we relieve our basic anxiety. When the barn is full, a sense of safety replaces fear. Storing up things in the present make us feel that the future is protected. The larger the accumulation, the greater the sense of safety. It won’t be long before our false sense of security is assured. We then alienate ourselves from our neighbors whom we consider a threat to this wealth. The need for feeling safe makes the idea of sharing ludicrous. The drive to assuage insecurity can be ruthless. It pushes people into self-centered behaviors that they in turn commit injustices. Even more, they tolerate any injustice as long as it benefits them.

Possessions make us self-sufficient and forgetful of our calling to live in community, sharing and solidarity. There is in each of us a streak of greed and covetousness. Our greed is intimately linked with our lack of love. We surround ourselves with all kinds of gadgets and accessories to compensate for our lack of self-esteem. We make sure our pendants are heavier than our necks, our earrings larger than our ears. We buy the affections of our loved ones and spend a fortune for pleasure. But the more we satisfy our material cravings, the more we are starved for love; the more alienated we become in a world of relationships.

About Fr. Tasang and his reflections.

Holiness as Wholeness, SUNDAY GOSPEL REFLECTION By Fr. Baltazar Obico, OFM 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Introduction: Last month we have many cases of food poisoning in the various parts of the country; from Surigao,Caloocan, Calamba. The victims are mostly public school children. A television ad coming from the DOH (also doubling as media exposure of the department head) warns the public to be extra careful in their eating habits foremost of which is to maintain the cleanliness of hands as they are the conduits by which the bacteria enters into our system. We need to maintain our hygiene to prevent unnecessary disease. Of course no one can argue with that common sense reminder, because it is almost second nature for all of us to observe cleanliness. We have a saying cleanliness is next to Godliness.

GOSPEL: The Gospel today is the interchange of Jesus and the Pharisees regarding ritual purity which is an essential dimension of Pharisaic religion. It is an effort to claim Jewish identity in a world happier with polytheistic style. The Pharisees argued that the practice of eating with undefiled hands was an obligation imposed not only on the Temple only but also on all Jewish people who sought to be the holy people they are called to be. To heed the stipulation of the oral law like this was not to escape into trivialities but to demonstrate how seriously the law of God has to be taken. Since Jesus is obviously a religious teacher, why do his disciples not take seriously the tradition of the elders, which is intended as a fence around the law to protect it? Why do they avoid this concern, which is so characteristically Jewish?

1. Jesus’ first response was an attack on the notion that the laws of God needs to be protected
by the traditions of the elders. The Pharisees are making void the word of God through their tradition. The elevation of the oral law to a place of parity alongside the Torah ultimately undercuts.

2. The second response of Jesus,however is even more substantive. “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but things that come out are what defile.” The whole notion of ritual purity or holiness based on food laws is undermined in one precise statement. What matters is the heart, the seat of the will where decisions are made about one’s neighbor. The condition of the heart, whether debased or pure, is far more critical that the food one eats or whether one attends to the washing of the hands.

3. The broader context in which this interchange occurs presentsan interesting backdrop. On the one hand, there are the two generous feedings of the multitude and an extravagant summary of Jesus healing in and around Gennesaret. On the other hand it is followed by the persistent faith of the gentile woman who asks only for crumbs and the restoration of hearing and speech of a deaf man living in a gentile area of Decapolis. These events pose a sharp contrast to the restrictive issue of the washing of hands before eating. (W.Brueggmann, et al.)

WORD: There is a need to distinguish between the will of God and his commandments and on the hands the oral traditions. We have many of them, especially in the matters of worship and liturgy. A concrete example would be the reception of the Eucharist. Should we receive it in our hands or through our mouth? How long should our exposition and benediction be? And yet these traditions can get into the way of loving relationships among parishioners.

The criticisms of Jesus against unnecessary emphasis on oral traditions liberates us from scrupulosity of conscience and the burden of guilty conscience. Many of what we considered sinful and therefore matters for confession are in fact non compliance with traditions. For example not observing fast before communion. Jesus wants us to forsake scrupulosity about good and evil and rediscover unity with the word of God.Instead of distinguishing between good and evil and passing judgments on man’s actions we should be trying to know God himself and be known by him. The tragedy of the Pharisees is that of all of uspretend to a knowledge outside its compass. We have it whenever people are judged on the basis of a knowledge of good and evil that ignores God. Living in conformity with God’s will setshim free from all casuistry about good and evil and made us closer to the sinner. We examine our conscience not so much to analyze the good and the evil but whether in our hearts we find the word of God. The cure of the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman and the restoration of the hearing and speech of the man from Decapolis depict the gracious way God operates. Neither character knows much about the ritual purity or tradition of the elders, but both know about the divine grace that made them whole. Jesus is not only patching up the old to make it more serviceable. He inaugurates something entirely new.

About Fr. Tasang and his other reflections…..

The Lord is my Shepherd, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time SUNDAY GOSPEL REFLECTION By Fr. Baltazar Obico, OFM

The English language uses the word herd mentality; it comes from the pastoral setting of tending the sheep. It means a mindless grouping/congregation of people very similar to our phenomenon of the so called HAKOT SYSTEM, where people are grouped together in a place not knowing why they are there in the first place, except that everybody is there. The basic disability of the sheep is its lack of vision, hence it is almost half blind. Therefore their security is in being together. Their sense of smell is their source of action. No other reason except vulnerability and survival instinct put them together.

Readings: Today the 16th Sunday in ordinary time, the responsorial psalm sums up the theme of our reflection. The first reading from Jeremiah speaks about the false shepherd who doesn’t care about the sheep; hence God will send a shepherd, who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear or tremble. Someone who will govern wisely and do what is right and just in the land. Mark’s gospel speaks about Jesus moved with pity for the people and saw the pastoral situation as being like “sheep without a shepherd.” And Jesus, despite their need for rest & nourishment, attended to their needs, teaching them many things. Shepherding is not an 8-5 job, but a 24/7 ministry. The need of the sheep is paramount more than the Shepherd’s. When the crowds seek Jesus at a time when Jesus is seeking privacy, there is no question that which need priority. It is the crowds. Tending the flock is not just a job to keep the groceries on the table; it is his reason for being, and for dying. It is a vocation given by the Father, which there can be no greater. The Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

For us to admit that we are sheep is to put our trust completely, unreservedly in Jesus, the Good Shepherd. The relationship between this kind of shepherd and his sheep is a power of connectedness, of empathy. The relationship between the Good Shepherd & his sheep intimate that it is an extension of the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Father’s omnipotence is the guarantee of Jesus’ promises; his promise of eternal life, that we shall not perish, that no one can take us out of his hands are promises to his flock that can be fulfilled by the Father. With him we shall not only “never perish”, not only protected from danger and harm, but will be led to eternal life, where we would not want anything, for God is the only necessity in our life.

1. Like sheep, we are almost half blind. We would not be able to see what lies beyond the horizon that awaits us. Neither can we see the dangers around us trying to exploit and mislead us. It is Jesus alone who can lead us to the eternal pasture. The grind of the daily life can lull us to contentment and we lose sight of the beyond. We can get so engrossed with daily cares and concerns that we are not able to see the marvelous future ahead of us.
2. Jesus is not only content in giving us the vision. Aside from the images of security of giving us the basic necessities, he leads us to the right paths, to mean all danger is averted. At the moment of greatest danger, God still provides, thus the Psalmist can say, “fear no evil.” God’s scepter/rod connotes royal authority hence his guidance and provision are reliable because God is sovereign. Jesus as Good Shepherd will put his life at risk in face of danger.
3. The caring and tending of the sheep includes knowing the sheep personally, each by name. An intimate relationship between Good Shepherd and the sheep binds them in an inexplicable way. The shepherd knows each one. Who is missing; who is sick; who has no appetite. There is no stranger in the clock. We are all known. None should feel she/he is unrecognized. But more than recognition, knowing means involvement in our lives.

In this age where many communities, neighbors are strangers to one another, whose neighbors scarcely know the name of those living next door and when many in fact seek anonymity, let us put away out isolation and alienation . Let us start hearing the voice of and follow the Good Shepherd that we may become one flock, where one knows and is known in the process.

About Fr. Tasang and his other reflections…..

SUNDAY GOSPEL REFLECTION By Fr. Baltazar Obico, OFM

FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI: Corpus Christi celebrates the gifts we received, identifies who we are, and renews our commitment to which we are called.

Background: Today’s feast is in a sense an unexpected feast for several reasons. It duplicates Holy Thursday; we are repeating the Last Supper celebration without the sadness of Good Friday. Secondly, because every Eucharistic celebration is a feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus. Unexpected, because of the origin of its feast. An Augustinian nun, Juliana of Liege reported a vision. She had seen a full moon in splendor, save for the dark area on one side. As she understood it, the moon was the Church, the area that was dark because the Church has no feast of Blessed Sacrament. Fifty five years later, Corpus Christi became a universal feast of the Church.

GOSPEL: Today we have Mark’s account of the Last Supper. The 1st two readings (Ex. 24:3-8; Heb. 9:11-15), together with the gospel speak of sacrifice, blood and covenant. What we call Last Supper, Jesus (and the rest of the Jews) called it the Passover meal. This meal meant a great deal to Jesus and that he himself carefully organized its celebration to the last detail. While the beginning is full of vivid touches, the rest of the narrative is extremely simple. The gestures made by Jesus are those of any head of the household at a paschal meal. But the words pronounced by Jesus when accomplishing these familiar gestures are extra ordinary.

…”This is my body…this is my blood…the evocation of his death, close at hand is obvious. Still more, his blood is the blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” Jesus did not merely make a prophetic gesture in order to announce that he was about to die. He proclaimed that he was giving his life to seal the covenant so that all might drink at the source of this life.

WORD:

1. Corpus Christi means first of all the physical body of Christ. It is this body that suffered torture, bloodied by whipping. It is the same body that took all the cruelty thrown at him, the same body that was nailed and hung on the cross. Jesus took all of them not in stoic indifference neither by vengeful spirit but by dignified silence. His body took all of these without eliciting sympathy and exhibiting anger; there is serenity and strength that can only spring from a heart in communion with God; his words are only forgiveness. When Jesus took upon his physical body all the injuries inflicted on him and breathed his last on the cross, he acted out and fulfilled the words he said on the Last Supper when he said “This is my body which will be given up for you.” Therefore when we receive the Body of Christ, we want to conform ourselves to the depth of Christ’s love. We should be able to bear the suffering for the sake of others. We too are willing to give up our bodies for others. When Jesus asks us to “to do this in memory of me” he was referring to that kind of love for others.

2. Corpus Christi also means the Eucharistic body of Christ in the Eucharistic species. In the Eucharist we have Jesus himself, body and blood, soul and divinity. When we receive Holy Communion, we have a closer contact with Jesus than was possible to anybody during his earthly life. In the Eucharist the actual distance between ourselves and Christ vanishes. The God-man out of sheer love gives the lowly bread and wine his flesh to eat and his blood or drink. We can only respond with awe and wonder because something marvelous and enrapturing has broken into our common place world. As we grow older, most of us have lost our sense of wonder. We get blasé, we become worldly-wise and sophisticated. We have grown up. Heschel saw it as modern man’s trap, believing that everything can be explained, that all of reality is simply an affair which has only to be organized in order to be mastered. All enigma can be solved and all wonder is nothing but effect of novelty upon ignorance. The enemy of wonder is to take things for granted. We need to recover this sense of wonder. We have nothing to rely on except the words of Jesus, when he said “this is my body.” He did not say this is the symbol of his body. His words are trustworthy. When we come to mass to receive the Eucharist we are making a number of statements. We are acknowledging Jesus as the Bread of life, the one who alone can satisfy our hunger. In that sense we cannot take it lightly. Our familiarity with the mass and the frequency with which we celebrate it can dull our senses to the full significance of what we are doing.

3. Corpus Christi means above all the mystical body of Christ, the community of believers. The Eucharist is essential a meal. It intends to bring together not only us with God but with one another. When we receive the body of Christ in communion, we are also accepting the presence of Christ in one another. We can’t share fruitfully in the first if we are unmindful of the second. When we as family have a meal at home together, we are drawn closer by that sharing more than anything else. When we provide hospitality to friends by way of meal – or they for us – we have the opportunity for closeness with them that nothing else has. The Last Supper had a powerfully unifying effect on the disciples. In the Last Supper together, they became conscious in a new way that they belonged not only to the Lord but also to each other. In the Eucharist, God is providing us the same opportunity, with the addition that the closeness, intimacy and union are provided for by God in abundance. The more we eat together, the more we become his mystical body. Those words, Corpus Christi, express who we are in this parish. In this year of faith, we commit ourselves again to being Corpus Christi, one body of Christ.

Brothers and sisters, we are what we receive, Corpus Christi.

About Fr. Tasang and his reflections….