Power of One; Power of All

Since the release of the Executive Order on the total ban of refugees and forced immigrants since Thursday, an atmosphere of acute anxiety, fear and sadness has pervaded across sectors of our society. Many were stunned to see that such measures to close doors on those who are fleeing for their lives could be denied entrance at the strke of a pen.

As a human being, an immigrant and Christian, it is harder for me not to empathize than move on thinking of peace without working for it.  “A hazard of the job” for me is to have access to the sturggles and suffering of the people I serve and work with. It takes work for me to remain hopeful and positive and that work is discipline.

Yet at this point it has become really clear where the heart of God is. So it is also quite clear where my heart is called to be at this time — with human beings fleeing terror and violence. Hence I partnered with my brother Christian Seno, OFM to launch #Iamastranger Campaign to raise awareness and advocate for our sister and brother refugees.

So here we are at a crossroad and we must respond. Any response that favors the life of the unborn, of the immigrant, of the oppressed, is a response and commitment to Jesus Christ among the voiceless and suffering. Gather one response with another, and another, and another, we  soon open a sacred space for God’s love and mercy to reign within our midst. In this space we worship and establish fellowship that cannot be taken away from us. The power of one response is the power of all.

We pray from the depths of ou hearts —

Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart,
and give me right faith,
certain hope,
and perfect charity,
wisdom and understanding,
Lord, that I may carry out
your holy and true command.
Amen.

Please join us and welcome Jesus Christ among those seeking refuge from war and violence.

Here are additional resources for the end:

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https://pax-bonum.com/2017/01/26/iamastranger-campaign/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Whole Life or Anti-abortion? It Can’t Be Both.

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This generation does not need anti-abortionists. This generation needs agents of Christ who will stand for all life forms created in the image and likeness of God.

If you march for life and yet fail to acknowledge the defunding of food nutrition programs especially in Title 1 schools by the very policy makers who march with you to ban abortion, then you are NOT a Pro-lifer but an anti-abortionist.

If you march for life together with policy makers who march with you to ban abortion and yet demand for the death of convicted criminals on death row, do not bother calling yourself a Pro-lifer because you are not. You are merely an anti-abortionist.

If you march for life along with the politicians who ban abortion but invalidate, diminish and challenge the value and existence of  black and brown lives, leave the label Pro-life because racism and white-privilege is anti-life.

If you march for life and yet voted to install power that oppresses women, you are a living a threat to another integral source of human life. You therefore allow women to be born only to be oppressed and so you are merely an anti-abortionist, lacking the vision of God’s desire for all his creation.

If you march for life and deny that climate change has a role in attacking human life especially those of people of color and the poor, since the first victims of climate change are almost always marginalized people, then by all means you’ve given up on respecting all lives. Hence you are only an anti-abortionist.

If you march for life while you insist on pathologizing LGBTQ’s and marching with policy makers who institutionalize the dehumanizing practice of conversion therapy, then you thirst for control over the ability of other human beings to make meaning of their lives by manipulating them through guilt and shame. Hence you become an oppressor and you reduce yourself to an anti-abortionist.

If you march for life and yet advance the massive and unregulated sale of guns and high-powered arms and/or support politicians who obstruct any regulating measures to curb gun violence and still march with them to ban abortion, you obviously are play-pretending to be a Pro-lifer when in fact you are merely an anti-abortionist.

If you march for life but are complicit and blind to the hate crimes, which our Muslim and Jewish sisters and brothers face in this current tide of oppression, you tarnish your public role as a Christian believer of Jesus Christ who made neighbors out of the Samaritans. You are merely an anti-abortionist who denies the teachings of Christ in respecting the lives of our sisters and brothers beyond the walls of our fellowship.

If you march for life and publicly pray during Mass, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed” and be the very first one to deny refugees passage to the safety that protects your life, and throw your support to politicians who fuel anti-immigrant rhetoric and transform this rhetoric to laws, you deny healing to your soul as you deny life to those who need safety from violence and attack on their lives.

May God show us all the path away from the legitmized and normalized forms of racism, bigotry, and hate that hide beneath the anti-abortion agenda. Instead may we allow ourselves to be led to the heart of Jesus that is present in all that is life.

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The Stress of Oppression, The Grace of Empowerment

“You are building a career off of the misery of the marginalized and poor people you are serving,” once chided my friend. Though meant as a joke I mulled over it for months. It bothered me because it may be true. If it were, it was an indictment of how I have carried myself as a Franciscan religious working with and for the people of God. Since my postulancy to simple profession, I have not really explored other ministries that did not involve the poor, people of color (like me), the ill, or marginalized sectors of our society. That may be a good sign for most Franciscans but any Franciscan knows better. Underneath the adulation with which people shower our ministries, are human beings who strive to be who they are before God. Before God we are a composite of many facets of our selfhood. To lead a meaningful life these facets must find unity. When it does not, we face tension and feel the stress that comes with it.

The stress of oppression: its beginnings and dynamics

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Art by Ramon Mesa

In Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), we have what we call social location. It is a description of realities integral to our relationship with society, which we cannot neglect because they play a huge role in responding to our ministry. Social location is critical because this is the first evidence of a minister’s presence in a helping relationship. For example, I have seen how my being a brown-skinned Filipino impacted my encounters with my patients in Baltimore Medical Center and Georgetown-Medstar Hospital. When wearing my friar habit, I found it easier to skip usual questions as, “Where are you really from?” or “How come you don’t have an accent?” from patients. I never heard similar incidents of the same frequency from Caucasian chaplains. To a person of color, this can be very exhausting. I found myself even doubting if those patients were convinced of my capacity to care for them not as a nurse, or medical aid but as a spiritual support minister. But this is my social location, and there is a system beyond hospital walls that influences my patient encounters. Yet, due to power dynamics, I possessed greater control and responsiblity to be mindful of how I felt and managed the exhaustion intrinsic to my social location as a Filipino religious brother ministering to patients asking me those questions.

I can deal with the fatigue, which those questions bring me. However, I consider the trivialization and intellectualization of the impact of those questions on me as oppressive and an undue burden created by those who have never experienced how it is to be a person of color. By this I mean consciousness gained neither by a visit in a black barbershop nor through immersion in a poverty-stricken Latino or African-American community but by being exactly a person of color.

Then comes the challenge of finding integrity in the teachings of the Church, particularly abortion and the right to life. I will always be pro-life. My view on the pastoral implications of being pro-life evolves but not the stance. However, I want to focus instead on the debilitating failure of the Pro-Life Movement to include black and brown lives in its fight for the right to life. How does this affect me? I am a person of color and without my friar habit I am not only a person of color but I also represent a regulated narrative already written and framed for me long before I even have the chance to do the narration myself . I admit that to myself and accept it as a reality from my vantage so that I can resist that forced narrative through conscious recognition of its forms. Before I welcome  invitations to present evidence of this claim other than what I had earlier shared, I rather revert the invitation to those who are on the side of privilege to reflect on the instances where they benefit from their own privilege.

My main point however in citing anti-abortion is that for many, it is a fight against abortion, not for life for all. Fighting for black and brown lives has been dismissed as  a prudential matter and not a moral imperative like abortion. Measured against people of color facing discrimination in all forms, this standard can be very stressful. Yet, racism is never called an intrinsic disorder and an objective evil at least by the moral theological authorities of the Church. For a person of color facing racism, it is an evil force in and of itself.  But again, apart from the life in the womb facing abortion, how can truth and data in the lived experiences of the oppressed shape moral codes when our space at the table is always regulated and never seen as a resource in and of itself? I happen to view that no one owns the table because it is God’s table and it is God who invites us.

If the movement were pro-life, rabid anti-abortionists would find that even without laws legitimizing the killing of black and brown lives, there already exists a system that undermines and threatens people of color through social policies, culture, biases, and the unconscious of white privilege for centuries. The fact that some people still find this incredible and hypothetical reflects a profound systemic failure to accept people of color who narrate their experiences of struggle and triumph against oppression in their own terms.

For example, Filipinos can easily call the Balanginga Massacre a genocide during the American occupation in which, Gen. Smith ordered American soldiers to kill Filipinos 10 years old and above. Based on experience, save for a number of White Americans, I have never faced opposition arguing for this point with African Americans or Latinos. Or a more recent example would be a House Bill that slashes budget for school lunch programs and nutrition budget for Title 1 schools where majority of students are African Americans and Latinos. Another obvious example is the ecological degradation that impact mostly people of color like African Americans in Flint, Michigan. Another inconspicuous example are the rulings against recent voter registration laws that disenfranchise the specific African American demographic. Of course we cannot neglect the heart-wrenching cases of police brutality and a justice system that seems to tilt against people like Treyvor Martin, Sandra BlandEric Gardner, Philando Castille among the many. The failure to include black and brown lives in the right to life campaign is a startling dissonance for a person of color like me living in a modern era. It smacks of disingenuous demonstration of fidelity to the aspirations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The tension between humility and prophetic responsibility

For a religious like me this is where I feel the tension. Many will argue that it is not my place as a religious to debate my experience of racial injustice or engage in politics. First as a response, I find it hard to treat aspects that contribute to the diminishment of my God-given dignity as just being political. I will not hold it against anyone who feels inclined to say so and is tempted to invalidate my point. However, I will tell anyone that doing either is oppressive. The narrative I write is not really open for validation from any vantage of privilege and power that are never grafted unto the struggles of people of color and the marginalized. If it were it will never be called privilege and power but service and credibility. If anyone finds him/herself actually with this tendency allow me to direct you to this question: how would you benefit by making me seek your validation before I present my narrative? Now that we have addressed that part I will share the tension I feel when speaking about injustices.

I feel torn when I speak out against injustice. Fully aware that I too have a role in systemic injustice, I feel that I may be placing myself above others who are committing injustice. I sometimes doubt whether or not I am being humble and as a Franciscan, humility is a fundamental value in our spiritual lives and relationships. I would like to believe that God is already enough for me and that is the reason I joined religious life. However, the more I focus on the life of Jesus Christ, the more I see injustices around me especially when juxtaposed against Christ’s promise of a Kingdom where there is genuine love and concern for all.

The more I experience this gap, the more Christ’s passion and desire to move towards the marginalized makes more sense to me. When Jesus cleansed the temple, he targeted the turtle dove vendors because they usurped the little money which poor worshipers can afford just to give their whole-hearted praises to God in his holy temple. When Jesus stood in defense of a woman about to be stoned, he came as a son of a woman who was once in danger of being stoned. When he sat with tax collectors, he saw through them and entered their hearts to disrupt their corrupt and abusive practice against his people. Jesus loved God’s people so much that it was his constant prayer not to be separated from them.

On the one hand, the Gospel shows me how much more I have to work on myself. As I struggle to follow Christ’s example, I run into this tension of speaking  truth of my experiences. Doing so is a source of discomfort for those including myself, who would soon realize how all of us use privilege and power to pursue a life of comfort that has been built on the backs of the oppressed. I do encounter discrimination but I use whatever privilege I have to survive and defend myself, my education included. But even my education is submerged in a regulated system of privilege and I too feed that system. It takes so  much to reject it the way Jesus and Francis of Assisi did.

The grace of empowerment: light breaks into darkness

“Fear not.” “Do not fear.” “Be not afraid.” All of these Jesus mentioned multiple times in the Gospel for a purpose. It has never been in the heart and mind of Jesus Christ to leave any of us drenched in fear of sin and hate so that we cannot even cry out to God. Empowerment is always marked by the destruction of fear like the early Christian disciples who were empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to their faith even under the threat of death. To reach that point, there is a cost to pay especially by those who are already marginalized and oppressed. More is asked of them to endure, to love, to keep faith, to forgive, to hope against all hopes, to trust in grace, to show courage in order to” slay the head of the serpeant,”  as civil rights leader Dr. Eleanor Moody Sheperd would put it.

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Photo by Ramon Razon, OFM

That said, we have a glimpse of the power of Jesus Christ who detested and sought to end injustice in order to push God’s agenda of relentless and irrevocable love and mercy. That glimpse is our light’s first break into darkness. When grace takes over, all things about us are illumined and it’s very difficult to unlight light itself even were everything around it is darkness. This is how the enlightened and the saints reversed the narrative of victimhood to one of empowered response.

The role of grace in empowerment

Grace makes a response possible but it does not make life easier. Soemtimes it comes like a flash and immediately transforms a moment into a new possibility. Therese of Liseux whom some psychologists now believe suffered a type of neurosis in her childhood probably also due to the grief that impacted much of the Martin household, shows this moment through what she calls “Christmas Grace”. One morning rather than breaking into her obstinate tantrums in reaction to a snide remark, she penetrated through her anguish and held herself in the midst of that tension and made a conscious decision to take another path and unshackle herself from a cycle of neurosis to embrace “all for all”. She placed herself into the “lift”, the grace of God that enabled her to overcome injustices in human relationships within her monastery and embrace pain and uncertainty all at the same time. She is now a doctor of the Church.

Sometimes, grace comes through powerful events of acute frustration. Oscar Romero attempted to offer John Paul II a different viewpoint from the one perpetuatued by his cirtics by showing the Pope photos of murdered El Slavadoran priests who were tortured and murdered for standing against the oppression of the poor of El Salvador. John Paul II made one conclusion, “Get them on line.” Frustrated, while on a plane to Belgium before returning to El Salvador, Oscar Romero found his peace and a renewed reassurance that he is excatly doing what he needs to do in standing with the people of God facing oppression. He moved forward without the validation of John Paul II. Oscar Romero is now beatified after a long era of Catholicism that convicted him of Marxist ties. The narrative  of mercy and justice, now under Pope Francis, not only validates Oscar Romero’s life but rather is standing on Oscar’s work, life, and witness to the Gospel.

St. Clare of Assisi refused to relent to Pope Innocent IV’s pressure to compromise her vow of poverty. A woman of her time, she succeeded writing her own rule by following the empowered path of the widow in the Gospel. This was long after Francis had died so the relationship that would most inspire her to persevere amidst this challenge (save for her intimacy with God) was no longer in her life.  Here lies the question, where does one get the strength and resources to believe and act in the manner of the poor widow demanding justice from an unjust judge? Clare drew strength from her vision with Francis, as a woman that she was. She did not wait for validation but made choices based on the truths that she had learned as a religious woman and one who had caught the gaze of her Savior. She mirrored that gaze on her view of the world and she never lost sight of that vision. In her heart she knew what she wanted and that empowered her.

The stress of facing disenfrachisement is great. Yet, as the life of Jesus Christ already illustrates, God’s relentless and abundant love can outlast hate and oppression. There is a cost each disciple has to pay. For our many failed attempts to follow the Gospel, we exactly know what the cost is on us. But that cost is where our empowerment lies. Lay hidden in that cost is grace that can catapult us to realizing a vision we thought was never possible. In that cost is love we thought we can never share. In that cost is faith that destroy thick walls of oppression. In that cost is the very self of who we are, standing before the gaze of God, feeling no less nor more as one gifted with dignity, bestowed and formed only by God. When this empowerment infiltrates our relationships we know that Kingdom of God is not far.

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Fraternal Moment with Br. Michael Reyes, OFM on his Solemn Profession; with author and Br. Christian Seno, OFM.

 

 

 

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Hospitality is Evangelization(ACTS 4:13-21;MK 16:9-15) May 2, 16

Hospitality is a vital component in the missionary life of the Church. Lydia embodies the ideal hospitality that extends the mission of the Church to a world hungry for God. However, the world is often hostile to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ amidst the dignity of humankind and his entire creation. To mitigate this Jesus sends the Paraclete to embolden us to welcome him among his least sisters and brothers and proclaim that God is with us, truly risen.

The bombing in Aleppo, Syria in the past week produced a riveting photo of a boy in front of the dead and bloodied body of his little brother wailing, “It should have been me, not you! Why should it have to be you?” Meanwhile, in the world over, refugees from Syria are treated as opportunists who just want to either terrorize communities or sap their host country’s resources. In December during the Advent Season, a US governor asked an archbishop to turn away a Syrian refugee family. Fortunately, Archbishop Tobin rejected the request.

In Queensland Australia, fracking has enabled toxic gases to contaminate Condamine River making it flammable and hostile to wildlife. Despite surmounting evidence and research showing how fracking damages human lives and ecosystems, corporate profit still drives decisions in issues concerning our environment.

In Bangladesh, the Catholic Church released a statement condemning the murder of two LGBT activists. The statement affirmed the human rights of all individuals whoever they are, whatever their position on any given issue is.

Sisters and brothers, we are now in an opportune moment to reverse last week’s headlines and replace them with the Gospel of Christian welcome and hospitality wherever life is present. Since we proclaim ourselves not worthy to have our Lord under our roof, we have no right to reject Him as he comes to us among the weakest, the least and the vulnerable. How is God calling us today to welcome him under our roof? May we be granted courage and love to assert God’s presence in places of hate, fear, prejudice, greed, and complacency. May we be God’s compassion and mercy today.

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Preaching the Word Made Flesh (Mk 16:15-20); Apr 25, 16

No better introduction to today’s Gospel than Peter’s directive, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.” This is the cornerstone of our call to bring the Gospel to all corners of the world. I have to learn this over and over again. This is not an easy lesson to learn and I am still learning.

When I was doing my chaplaincy internship I had to baptize a baby girl who was actively dying. I stood in front of her mangled body while her parents stood beside her. Her father was charged for abusing. Police officers waited at the hallway throughout. I could hardly finish the baptismal formula because I felt so torn and anguished by the innocent suffering of a human being and the evil behind the crime embodied by the suspect. For weeks I struggled with the experience and challenged my spiritual director on why God would not take care of his creation. My spiritual director replied, “But you were there baptizing the baby in the name of God.” I was stunned. It’s been a year and to this day I am still recovering the lessons I learned from that hospital encounter.

Based on that experience, I realize that proclaiming the Gospel is a call to be like Jesus, Word made flesh in the world. Our presence, regardless of our discomfort and limitations must impress the face of God unto the world. We do this through words and acts of love, justice and mercy to trump evil, heal the broken-hearted and cast out useless fears and anxieties that turn us against each other. As Peter himself directed us, we must humble ourselves before God and cast all our worries unto Him if we want to share the Gospel.

What does this mean? Though we may have one of the most organized and clearest doctrines compared to all other religions, we still do not know everything there is to know about those who suffer illness, injustices, poverty, discrimination, violence, oppression, sin, despair and anything that undervalues any person’s human dignity. If we are aware, our abilities and understanding will always be challenged by circumstances in which we cannot do much to change anything. Yet, these are the moments where God is most active in our wounded world — creating, healing, breathing new life through our own weaknesses and limitations.

The disciples and the apostles lived as minorities. Though they possessed certitude and wisdom of God’s real presence among them and in the world, they were never in a position to condemn and judge. They did not use their certitude to broker power and privilege because they had none. St. Mark comes from the original 70 disciples of Jesus who understood that the vocation to proclaim the Gospel starts with discomfort, of not knowing how God will accomplish his work in a broken world, but admitting that limitation and trusting in the abundant grace of God.

All of us share in that mission and we need to know the places of our discomfort, where we feel incapable and insufficient. Let us go to those places. There we will find the Word made flesh truly alive and risen among the poor, the marginalized, the vulnerable, the voiceless, the discriminated against, the persecuted, the oppressed. Not only will they teach us how to proclaim the Gospel but they will also lead us to our transformation into a more complete image of the Word made flesh. Happy Feast!

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Not a Pious Fable on Obedience (Lk 1:26-38); Apr 4’16

Henry Ossawa Tanner is known for his painting of the Annunciation. Sergio, my former classmate, interpreted Mary in this painting as clasping her hands, overwhelmed by the thought of becoming the mother of God. He saw Mary mulling over Gabriel’s message and argued that it might have actually taken her the entire night to wrestle with her doubts on how this could be fulfilled in her. Finally came the break of day and she said yes, not because she relented but because she finally embraced mystery.

Contrary to popular opinion I am not convinced that this Gospel passage was ever meant to be a pious fable on obedience. The heart of this narrative was Mary’s struggle to hold the tension between her own doubts and her desire to follow God. She challenged Gabriel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” Her obedience is as significant as her struggle to embrace something beyond her understanding. This is the real basis of her humility.

Lesley Hazleton, a scholar on Islam, commenting on the significance of the Prophet Mohammed’s doubts upon his encounter with Allah has this to say about the similar process with which Mary wrestled and I quote, “Abolish all doubt and what’s left is not faith but absolute heartless conviction, you’re certain that you possess the truth and this quickly devolves to dogmatism and righteousness. By which I mean a remonstrated over weaning pride in being so very right.” We see none of this in Mary but a consciousness of her limits and doubts. This is why I am convinced Mary is so crucial to our ability to listen and follow the beat of God’s heart.

I borrow from the wisdom of one our friars. Convinced that he had all the answers when he missioned in Japan, Flavian Walsh confessed, “I came to Japan knowing all the answers but no one was asking me any questions! I began to read again the writings of St. Francis…Francis was saying that the missionary simply must live among people and make the divine quality of the Gospel visible …It dawned on me that I do not need to have all the answers. I was simply called to live among people as a Christian, to listen to them and serve them.”

It’s already challenging to realize that we do not have all the answers but more challenging than this is listening to the beat of God’s heart among the people we serve and encounter. This is because the way we listen to that beat is also influenced by our own prejudices, biases and personal history. Mary’s own view and understanding of her cultural role as a woman came out in Luke’s account of the Magnificat , “God has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.”

The incarnation of Jesus Christ characterized Mary’s divine quality. Fulfilling her role was not natural. She struggled through God’s plan of salvation, wrestling, questioning, but always walking with God in humble service. Her next move was to visit and accompany her cousin Elizabeth, also embroiled in this unfathomable plan of salvation. God’s plan is often unfathomable and it creates tensions and yearnings that sometimes we can never describe in words even in our own prayer. What do we do? We embrace mystery as Mary did.

“The Holy Spirit will overpower you” assured Gabriel. St. Paul wrote a similar affirmation to the Romans, “But the spirit himself intercedes for us in groans too deep for words.” Paul’s emphasis on the action of the Holy Spirit explains how the Annunciation is not about a narrow focus on Mary’s, “fiat”. Such approach on obedience can trivialize our journey to give our all to God, and potentially exclude the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Our salvation unfolds through the force of love that pulls us into the incarnation of Jesus Christ. From thereon, our human brokenness more than our strengths and abilities has been the target of God’s love– “because God has remembered his promise of mercy.”

I can’t blame Mary for challenging the Angel Gabriel for being so vague. Embracing mystery as Mary did is a life-long task but I hope we all encounter God’s heart as we wrestle with our life’s toughest questions in relation to others and ourselves. It is only through God’s heart that we can really hold all the tensions that result from our attempts to commit our best and entire self to God. Happy Feast!

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I Will Serve vs. I Will Not Serve (Jn 12: 1-11); Mar.21’16

Our Catholic tradition tells of the four fatal words that cost the most favored angel, Lucifer his place in God’s eternal kingdom – “I will not serve.” Judas in today’s Gospel cloaks his theft and fraud on the common fund with the guise of service to the poor and targets the generosity of Mary as she anoints the feet of Jesus Christ. The actions and words of Judas can be summed up to Lucifer’s conviction, “I will not serve.”

We have heard and seen Pope Francis wash the feet of refugees, the homeless, recovering drug addicts, women, and Muslims. Many were inspired but quite a handful in the Catholic world has called his action excessive display of mercy if not irresponsbile. But wasn’t Jesus, Emmanuel – God with us? Jesus showed us that to be with his people means to serve his people. He healed the sick on a Sabbath. He broke bread with a tax collector. He rejected calls to stone an adulterous woman. He multiplied bread to feed thousands. Yes, in all these cases Jesus showed excessive display of mercy especially to the outsiders, and the broken-hearted of society. Why shouldn’t Pope Francis be any different from the example of Jesus Christ? Why shouldn’t we be any different from the example of our Pope?

The singular and most irrevocable antithesis of Lucifer’s “I will not serve” is the Eucharist. In the Eucharistic table, we see where the heart of Jesus Christ clearly stands. Jesus says, “You cannot be part of what I’m doing if I don’t wash your feet.” Jesus is the first one to wash our feet, not us. He is the one to tell us to serve one another not us. When we partake of the body and blood of Jesus Christ our Amen also means – Yes, Lord I will serve you in the least of my brothers and sisters!

Mary, sister of Martha may yet be dubbed the best example of a communicant. She received Jesus under her roof in a total spirit of service even before Jesus washed the feet of the apostles. When we pray the words, “Lord I am not worthy that I should have you under my roof,” may we pause and beg Jesus to compel us to welcome under our roof those whom he calls “the least of my brothers and sisters”. We know some of them already. Pope Francis washed their feet. It’s our turn to do the same.

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Learning Mercy on the Streets (Jn 4:43-54); Mar 7’16

In our Jubilee Year of Mercy, hearing strong words such as reconciliation, healing and forgiveness may come with feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness and grief. Often such anxiety, fear, sadness or grief may appear as anger when we prompted to forgive or ask for forgiveness. And it is okay to feel these emotions and express them in healthy ways in order to bring them out to light. This is who we are before God, finite and broken beings. To recover from our brokenness however, it is paramount to begin with the conviction of today’s readings: God exults in us, his people and creation.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus demonstrates the power of his words to bring life where there is death. Isaiah mentions, “create” many times over to stress how God is not of destruction but of creation. It is the intention of Jesus to bring fullness into our lives and we fulfill that fullness when we embrace God’s mercy, like the Royal official who placed all his trust in Jesus with whom he pleaded to heal his son. Life and creation is a constant sign of God.

The other day four friars and myself walked a silent march for peace and social justice and an end to racism. One individual rejected our stance citing an argument we all could never deny – that Christians have been also oppressive for centuries and so how dare we condemn racism and advocate for peace and justice. My brother friar replied, “What you said is true, we are sorry and we are trying to make it better.” The man simply said, “Thank you and thank you for listening.” And he walked away. In that encounter I believe God’s creation has been given a chance to take place.

Jesus is the ultimate sign, the fountain of mercy, not us. If we decide to embrace God’s mercy, we face a challenge. Being a new creation means letting go of anything that gets in the way of embodying the real presence of Christ on earth, our new life. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist today extends beyond ourselves and to all whom God has created. Embracing the interdependence of our new life upon the gifts, struggles, and wisdom of each other is the mission of mercy. This is who we are as Church – signs of life and creation through God’s mercy to each other.

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Irrevocable Contribution of Women (2 Kgs 5:1-15; Lk 4:24-30) Feb 29’16

In one of our fraternal gatherings, we were discussing how we friars are leading our evangelical lives as religious. We came upon this tension about how we could be brothers to all while making sure that those who enjoy power and privilege are not alienated by our preferential focus on the marginalized and the outsiders of society.

From my vantage, it sounded as if there were too many conditions to consider were we to be prophetic and genuine about our vows. Out from nowhere another friar spoke and he said, “If we were to really be prophetic in leading our vowed lives no one would really like us and we would not really desire that everyone like us to begin with. Not everyone liked St. Francis.” I was stunned, and today’s reading reminds me of what my brother friar said.

Did we ever expect that a little slave girl could have helped the mighty Naaman? To be a slave is oppressive already but to be a slave and a girl not only in that time but in this century as well means to be unwanted, voiceless and worthless. But no, God exalts the lowly and uses a marginalized human being to deliver his power.

In the Gospel, Jesus made no attempt to win admiration and increase his likability. He disrupted how people already determined what his messianic and prophetic role ought to be. He challenged them to think beyond Israel to the peril of his own life. Salvation beyond the temple of Israel was too scandalous.

If we want to practice our Christianity this Lent, we should also prepare to be disliked and marginalized because we are at the ripe time to build bridges and oppose anyone who destroys them. This holy season means to stand with the unwanted – the unborn, the immigrants and refugees, the death row inmates, the elderly, the sick and the isolated, the homeless, the actual victims of racism, bigotry and hate to name a few.

This Lent, my brother friar’s words ring true not only for us friars but to all people of God. If we were really to be followers of Jesus Christ, we may just end up with no one liking us for if we fast and abstain from power, control and influence after these 40 days we will have lost the appetite to be admired and liked in the first place. Isn’t this another genuine way to fast and abstain? May the Eucharist give us the strength to do so.

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The Tassel of Jesus’ Garment (Mk 6: 53-56); Feb 8’16

When I was interning as a chaplain in a hospital, the question on what healing meant followed every encounter I had with my patients. Some will never find a cure for their illness and some will but does this mean no other form of healing can take place? A former Catholic Vietnam veteran says that after his divorce 30 years ago, and recovering from PTSD, he is now able anchor his life unto the love of his own family. He still suffers from the effects of agent orange but he says he has never felt more comfortable in his own skin than in his gift of self to his own family. He found his home in love and this has brought him peace.

Today’s Gospel, Mark uses the Greek verb esozonto, connoting not just physical healing but the experience of wholeness, of coming home.

The sick and the infirmed in today’s gospel had one desire, that is, to touch the tassel of the garment of Jesus Christ. All that they were, all that they struggled for, all that they desired, hinged upon touching the tassel of the garment of Jesus Christ. In the last supper, Jesus did more than letting his friends touch the tassel of his garment. Jesus Christ himself washed the feet of the apostles and commanded them to do the same to everyone. From that point on, Jesus has sent his followers to mission by serving one another.

For Jesus, this is what happens when we break bread with him, we become at home with God and ourselves by giving of ourselves to each other. To us followers and companions of Jesus this is evidence of healing. Jesus not only allows us to touch his garment but he welcomes us in the Eucharist to be with us.

Like the veteran soldier I was talking about, this healing happens in our own gift of self. This is how we come home to Jesus Christ. In this home we find God’s mercy and love by accepting that it is really Jesus who first washed our feet and loved us. Today in the Eucharist, Jesus tells us, “Welcome to your home, be healed.” Sisters and brothers we are gifted more than just a tassel to grasp.

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