‘WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?’ (Lk 1:39-45): 21 December 2007 (Friday)

‘WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?’ (Lk 1:39-45):  21 December 2007 (Friday)

Reading:  www.nccbuscc.org/nab/122107.shtml

What’s wrong with this picture?  One glance at this scene of the Visitation, and we’ll probably say, “Nothing!”  After hearing the angel’s news, Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth to offer her help.  Mary is herself pregnant, but out of generosity and concern for Elizabeth, she leaves home to stay with her cousin until the latter’s childbirth.  Elizabeth rushing out to welcome Mary makes a touching stampita scene, as composed here by filmmaker Franco Zefferelli in his 1977 six-hour mini-series, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Continue reading ‘WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?’ (Lk 1:39-45): 21 December 2007 (Friday)

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“DID YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WERE GETTING INTO?” (Lk 1:26-38): 20 December 2007 (Thursday)

“DID YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WERE GETTING INTO?”  (Lk 1:26-38):  20 December 2007 (Thursday)

Reading:  www.nccbuscc.org/nab/122007.shtml

In June of the year 1985, a mysterious photograph appeared on the cover ofNational Geographic (above left).  It was a close-up of a young Afghan refugee girl, probably around fourteen years old.  The picture was taken by an American photographer named Steve McCurry in a school in a refugee camp in Pakistan sometime before Christmas the previous year.   Continue reading “DID YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WERE GETTING INTO?” (Lk 1:26-38): 20 December 2007 (Thursday)

“WHAT HAVE I STOPPED PRAYING FOR?” (Lk 1:5-25): 19 December 2007 (Wednesday)

“WHAT HAVE I STOPPED PRAYING FOR?” (Lk 1:5-25):  19 December 2007 (Wednesday)

Reading:  www.nccbuscc.org/nab/121907.shtml

It’s not fair.  The old man was just trying to do his job.  By the gospel’s own account, he was a righteous man.  That fateful day that he was picked to enter the sanctuary, he was just planning to go in there, burn the required incense, say a couple of prayers, and then leave right away.  He expected nothing out of the ordinary– certainly not a vision of angels, and certainly not the news of his elderly wife Elizabeth bearing a son.  And all he did was ask the angel a question, but when he came out of the sanctuary, he could no longer speak. Continue reading “WHAT HAVE I STOPPED PRAYING FOR?” (Lk 1:5-25): 19 December 2007 (Wednesday)

“ARE YOU SERIOUS?” (Mt 1:18-25): 18 December 2007 (Tuesday)

“ARE YOU SERIOUS?” (Mt 1:18-25):  18 December 2007 (Tuesday)

Reading:  www.nccbuscc.org/nab/121807.shtml

One of the least known movies on the life of Christ is “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” directed by controversial Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini.  Hailed as a masterpiece since its release in 1964, the film uses only scenes and words lifted from the first gospel. Continue reading “ARE YOU SERIOUS?” (Mt 1:18-25): 18 December 2007 (Tuesday)

“WHY SHOW YOUR TRUE COLORS?” (Mt 1:1-17): 17 December 2007 (Monday)

“WHY SHOW YOUR TRUE COLORS?” (Mt 1:1-17):  17 December 2007 (Monday)

Reading:  www.nccbuscc.org/nab/121707.shtml

Last March 2007, Cyndi Lauper appeared on “The View” and performed “True Colors,” which hit No. 1 on  the Billboard 100 charts almost twenty years ago.  Gone were the outrageous costume and the wildly colored 80’s hair.  Also, compared to the 1986 music video, this live performance was less affected, more quiet and heartfelt, relaying the song’s message in a way that the original recording, as well as the excellent 1998 Phil Collins’ cover, were nowhere close to achieving. Continue reading “WHY SHOW YOUR TRUE COLORS?” (Mt 1:1-17): 17 December 2007 (Monday)

“SHOULD WE LOOK FOR ANOTHER?” (Mt 11:2-11): 16 December 2007 (Third Sunday of Advent)

“SHOULD WE LOOK FOR ANOTHER?” (Mt 11:2-11):  16 December 2007 (Third Sunday of Advent)

Reading:  www.nccbuscc.org/nab/121607.shtml

I don’t know if you noticed it, but that’s a pretty strange exchange of messages between our Lord and John the Baptist.

First of all, John the Baptist requests his disciples to ask our Lord a bizarre question.  Thrown into prison for denouncing the sins of Herod Antipas, John the Baptist hears about the miracles of our Lord and sends his disciples to ask:  “Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for another?”  Now why would he ask a question like that? Continue reading “SHOULD WE LOOK FOR ANOTHER?” (Mt 11:2-11): 16 December 2007 (Third Sunday of Advent)

“ARE YOU EMO?” (Mt 17:9a, 10-13): 15 December 2007 (Saturday)

“ARE YOU EMO?” (Mt 17:9a, 10-13): 15 December 2007 (Saturday)

Reading:  www.nccbuscc.org/nab/121507.shtml

“Emo” (short for “emotional” or “emotive” and pronounced /ˈi-moʊ/) refers to a style of rock/punk music and fashion, as well as a personality stereotype characterized by being emotional, introverted, and angsty.  I recently saw this tongue-in-cheek YouTube video called “What is emo?”  The interviewer asks young people on the streets of London to define the term.  The first response he gets?  “People who slit their wrists!”  Not surprising since self-injury is supposed to characterize someone who’s emo.

In today’s reading, the Lord compares John the Baptist to the prophet Elijah, who is known for his dramatic encounter with what I think are true blue Old Testament emo’s.  Elijah the prophet condemns the Israelites’ worship of Baal and challenges the pagan priests to a test of powers.  He summons all the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel, where two altars are built, one for Baal and the other one for Yahweh.   The sacrifice of oxen and fire wood are laid on each of the altars.  Elijah then announces the rules of the contest:  Without physically making fire, both camps are supposed to pray for fire to light the sacrifice.  The priests of Baal pray all day–to no avail.  Then the priests begin to act emo:  They slash their wrists and mix their blood with the sacrifice, hoping that their prayers would be answered.  Again, no success.

To make a long story short, before taking his turn, Elijah orders that his altar be drenched with twelve barrels of water for effect.  When he utters his prayer, fire falls from the sky and, to the dismay of his opponents, Elijah’s altar ignites in a magnificent display of Yahweh’s power, proving once and for all that Yahweh is the One True God and that no amount of wrist-slashing will start any fire.  Obviously, in this case, emotional blackmail didn’t work.

As I think about the behavior of Baal’s priests, the question that comes to mind is:  “What about us?  When it comes to dealing with God, are we closet emo’s?”

I don’t know about you, but think I’m guilty. When I was a kid, when I wanted something, I would make all sorts of promises to God.  The more badly I wanted something, the bigger–and less realistic–my promises became.  Even today, I’m still quite capable of the same tactics.  I still catch myself resorting to emotional blackmail when I want something from God although I now try to be less blatant about it.  In other words, short of cutting my wrists, I still find myself trying to manipulate God, albeit in more subtle ways.

Today the Lord reminds us that it just doesn’t work that way. No matter how grandiose the promises we make, no matter how grave the injury we inflict on ourselves, He remains truly God, transcendent, incapable of being manipulated to do as we wish.  So if we know what’s best for us, we should forget the tactics of Baal’s priests, those Old Testament emo’s, and learn from the faith of Elijah–the prophet who staunchly believed that as long as what he did was right, God would not fail him.

The Lord actually mentioned Elijah in the context of the murder of John the Baptist and his own impending suffering.  As we know, both he and the baptist didn’t hesitate to embrace pain and even death when the situation called for it.   So now I can’t help but wonder and ask him: “What about you, Lord?  Are you emo, too?”  I’m tempted to think that God and his saints have a streak of emo in them too.

When you consider the way they accept suffering, it certainly looks that way–but there is one important difference:  While true blue emo’s hurt themselves in order to get something for themselves, God and his saints allow themselves to be hurt–and even killed–in order to give to others.  That’s a whole world of difference.

(image: forums.ijji.com)

“WHY ARE WE GRIEVING?” (Mt 11:16-19): 14 December 2007 (St. John of the Cross)

“WHY ARE WE GRIEVING?”  (Mt 11:16-19):  14 December 2007 (St. John of the Cross)

Reading:  www.nccbuscc.org/nab/121407.shtml

For some reason, the gospel today reminds me of a poem I first read when I was in high school.  The poem is “Spring and Fall” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, a 19th-century Jesuit who’s considered one of the most difficult English poets.  The poem is deceptively short and simple, and Hopkins typically coins startlingly original words like “unleaving” and “leafmeal” to suggest–quite effectively–the piecemeal shedding of leaves in autumn.  But even if I could hardly understand the poem then, I immediately liked it if only for its tone and mood.

In the poem, the speaker, an adult, watches a young girl named Margaret weep over fallen leaves.  The poem begins:

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

His tone is tender and wistful; we can almost imagine him shaking his head, smiling sadly to himself as he watches Margaret.  He sees that the girl doesn’t understand enough, but he doesn’t rush in to give her a lecture.  He knows that in due time she will understand on her own.

I suspect the Lord might have felt something like this as he spoke to the fickle and confused crowd–perhaps not without exasperation, but certainly also not without sadness.  “We played a flute for you,” he complained, “but you did not dance.  We sang a dirge, but you did not mourn.”

This profound confusion that the Lord is talking about–I think I know what he means.  Have you ever had the feeling that you’re so confused that you’re not even sure if you want to dance or mourn?   Have you had moments when you can’t decide if you prefer to fast or feast, so you unwittingly end up rejecting both John the Baptist and the Lord?  It’s almost as if we sometimes refuse to be happy.  In other words, “Damn if you do, damn if you don’t.”  Or as a famous local actress-turned-governor allegedly quipped during an interview:  “Damaged if you do, damaged if you don’t!”

How right she is.  Damaged we all are.  We insist on grieving without really knowing what we grieve for.  We insist on our discontent, vaguely wishing for something more or even just something else without really knowing what it is we seek.

The speaker in the poem understands that although Margaret is mourning the falling leaves, though she doesn’t know it yet, she is actually also grieving over the human condition as well as herself.  As the last lines put it:  “It is the blight man was born for, it is Margaret (we) mourn for.”

Likewise, the Lord knows that it is ourselves we mourn for.  The truth is, the source of our grief is our estrangement from God, but we don’t know it.  All our greatest hungers and all our fiercest needs are but symptoms of our deepest desire–which is nothing but our desire for God.  Everything else is blind, frantic and desperate grasping to fill this hole inside us.

Today we ask ourselves, “Why are we grieving?”  It’s a crucial question because to know what we mourn for is to know what we’re born for.

(image:  www.victorianweb.org)

Note:  I have uploaded a reading of the poem by Richard Austin.  If you want to listen to it, download it from “The Soundtrack of Our Lives” (Music).  Here also is the complete text of the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

SPRING AND FALL
to a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By & by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep & know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

“MUST WE ALWAYS FINISH LAST?” (Mt 11:11-15): 13 December 2007 (St. Lucy, Thursday)

“MUST WE ALWAYS FINISH LAST?”  (Mt 11:11-15):  13 December 2007 (St. Lucy, Thursday)

Reading:  www.nccbuscc.org/nab/121307.shtml

Woody Allen’s 1989 film “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is about  two men who can’t be more different from one another.  The first is an eye doctor named Judah (played by Martin Landau), whose mistress (Angelica Huston) is enraged when she realizes that contrary to promises made earlier, he will not leave his wife to live with her.  In retaliation, she resorts to blackmail and threatens to ruin his reputation.  Desperate, Judah decides to hire someone to kill her.  But instead of getting caught and punished, or even just losing sleep over his crime, Judah manages to move on.  The crisis lifts, and to his surprise, his life even prospers. Continue reading “MUST WE ALWAYS FINISH LAST?” (Mt 11:11-15): 13 December 2007 (St. Lucy, Thursday)

“WHAT WOULD YOU SEND ME?” (Lk 1:39-47): 12 December 2007 (The Virgin of Guadalupe, Wednesday)

“WHAT WOULD YOU SEND ME?”  (Lk 1:39-47):  12 December 2007 (The Virgin of Guadalupe, Wednesday)

Reading:  www.nccbuscc.org/nab/121207.shtml

We don’t always notice it, but the gospels often depict Mary as being “on the move.”  Today’s reading tells us that immediately after the Annunciation, Mary “set out and traveled to the hill country of Judah” to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  As we know, for the birth of Christ, she traveled with her husband Joseph to Bethlehem.  Almost immediately after that, they escaped to Egypt before returning to Nazareth.  According to Luke’s gospel, when Jesus was twelve, the entire family went to Jerusalem for a pilgrimage to the temple.  Finally, the gospel according to John reports that she traveled down to Jerusalem to be with her son in his final moments.

Today’s feast reminds us that to this day, Mary hasn’t really stopped traveling.  Her Visitation to Elizabeth has been but the first of many that she continues to make.  One internet source claims that the more famous Marian apparitions number all of 67 although not all of them are considered official by the Church.  These apparitions have occurred as early as the year 39 AD (before her Assumption) when she allegedly appeared to St. James in Caesaraugusta (present-day Zaragoza, Spain) up to the very present.  After her Assumption, our Lady has been claimed to travel to places like Banneaux (Belgium), Lourdes and La Salette (France), Fatima (Portugal), and Medjugorie (Bosnia & Herzegovina) , as well as Akita (Japan) and Garabandal (Spain).  Lesser known places she has supposedly visited include Bayside in New York, Zeitoun in Egypt, La Vang in Vietnam, and even our own Lipa City.  It’s almost as if Mary has simply refused to leave her children behind.

The Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe recalls a famous visitation  in Mexico.  In the year 1531, she appears to the peasant Juan Diego and requests him to relay her wish to the bishop that a temple be built on the site.  Naturally, the bishop refuses to believe such a tale and asks for a sign.  The sign is given:  With a piece of cloth called tilma, Juan Diego gathers roses in winter and when he unravels his tilma, the roses come pouring out, and the image of Mary appears imprinted on the cloth.

What I like best about Guadalupe is it doesn’t have the usual doomsday messages associated with many Marian apparitions.  The Blessed Mother requests for a church, and when the unbelieving bishop understandably asks for a sign, what does she send him?  A bouquet of roses and the portrait of his mother.  It was the loveliest of gifts that a mother knows will melt the hardest of hearts.

Today I ask the Blessed Mother:  “What would you send me?  When I’m not listening and my heart is hard, what gift would you send me?”

During a retreat immediately before my own ordination in 1998, I was plagued with self-doubts, and I felt unworthy of ordination.  A recurring image in my prayer was that of a beggar who held an old rusty can of coins.  I felt I had nothing to offer God but the “loose change” of my life.

My prayers were uniformly distracted and dry.  On the very last day, I sat in the small chapel resigned to the possibility of a failed retreat and perhaps a failed vocation. I entertained thoughts of leaving the seminary a few months before ordination.

And then it happened–a powerful religious experience when it was least expected:  Suddenly, the fragrant scent of roses.  My first thought was:  “Mary.”  But almost simultaneously I heard an inner voice that had to belong to her:  “No, not me, but you.  Your offering is not a can of loose change, but a bouquet of the most fragrant roses.”

It was Mary’s gift for me when I faced the darkest of nights with the weakest of faith.  Typical of her, isn’t it?  I didn’t recognize it then, but looking back now, I know:  It was the grace of Guadalupe. In the cold of winter, I had unravelled my heart to God, and roses came pouring out, revealing her face.

(image: en.wikipedia.org)