FATHER, FORGIVE THEM (Luke 23:33-34): 31 March 2010 (Lent)

FATHER, FORGIVE THEM (Luke 23:33-34):  31 March 2010 (Lent)

Reflections on the First of the Seven Last Words
Church of the Gesu
Ateneo de Manila University
31 March 2010

And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:33-34)

I don’t know about you, but I have a little problem with these first words of Jesus on the cross.  I have a couple of questions.

First of all:  Who’s ‘them’?  Who is He actually forgiving?  Our Lord could be referring to several groups of people who have wronged him before and during the crucifixion, people responsible for what happened in different ways and in varying degrees.  Who could these people be?


WHAT’S IN YOUR MANGER? : 24 December 2009 (Christmas Eve)

WHAT’S IN YOUR MANGER? :  24 December 2009 (Christmas Eve)

Note: This homily was delivered during the Christmas Midnight Mass in Xavier School last 24 December 2009.

Over 500 years before the very first Christmas, between 620 to 560 BC, there lived in Ancient Greece a famous storyteller. His name was Aesop, and he wrote children’s stories that were called fables. These fables always had a valuable lesson to teach not only children but even adults. I’m sure you’ve heard of some of them—like “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The North Wind and the Sun,” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”


THE ZECHARIAH IN US: 23 December 2009 (Simbang Gabi)

THE ZECHARIAH IN US:  23 December 2009 (Simbang Gabi)

Note:  This homily was delivered last 23 December at the Simbang Gabi Mass in the Gesu,  Ateneo de Manila University.

Just one more day to go before the day we celebrate the birth of our Lord!

But not so fast! The past couple of evenings, we have been invited first to think about another birth—the birth of our Lord’s cousin, John the Baptist. Amidst all the excitement and rejoicing in that household that day, one person was strangely silent: the father of the newborn baby, Zechariah. In the gospel story today, he more than makes up for it by breaking his silence and breaking into song, giving us one of the loveliest songs in the New Testament.


NEVER HUNGER, NEVER THIRST (John 6:24-35): 02 August 2009 (Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

NEVER HUNGER, NEVER THIRST (John 6:24-35): 02 August 2009 (Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Today’s Readings

Today’s Gospel Reading is about Jesus the Bread of Life, who promises that “whoever comes to me will never hunger and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  These days we are grieving our loss of President Corazon Aquino, as though we have lost a family member.  No one can give a more powerful reflection on the Scripture today than her, who “never hungered, never thirsted” even in the worst of famines and droughts because of her strong faith in the Lord.   


“SHOWING OFF MY WOUNDS” (Jn 20:19-31): 30 March 2008 (Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday)

“SHOWING OFF MY WOUNDS” (Jn 20:19-31):  30 March 2008 (Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday)

Today’s Readings

According to statistics, 11.5 million cosmetic procedures were done in 2006 in the United States alone.  Over 3 million received Botox treatments.  Almost 1.5 million underwent laser hair removal.  And  there were approximately 400,000 patients for liposuction and another 400,000 for breast augmentation.

Thanks to today’s advanced medical technology and an outrageously beauty-conscious culture, more and more men and women are going for cosmetic procedures.  An ad for the metrosexual lifestyle may as well go:  “Got a problem with a body part? Just fix it!”

That’s why there’s something very wrong with today’s Gospel scene. When most of us would prefer to hide our smallest blemish, the Risen Lord shows off his wounds!  And it gets worse when you realize that the Lord’s resurrection actually gives him a once-in-a-lifetime chance to exchange his old body for a brand new one, but what does he do?  He chooses to keep his wounds!

I don’t know about you, but doesn’t that’s really crazy, isn’t it?  If I were going to rise from the dead and get a brand new body in the process, why keep the wounds?  Some of us here can’t even wait for our resurrection to fix our faces and bodies.  The slightest scar, the slightest mark, the slightest pimple–all this has to go asap, never mind how much.

But mind you, when we talk about the Risen Lord, we aren’t even just talking about scars or marks, much less pimples.  Remember what Thomas said:  “I will never believe (that he has risen) without putting my finger in the nailmarks and my hand into his side.”  It’s even more graphic in Filipino:  “…hangga’t hindi ko isinusuot ang mga daliri ko sa kanyang mga sugat…”  Putting the finger and hand into the wounds?

Looks like these aren’t just scars that we’re talking about—we’re talking about open, gaping wounds here.  For some strange mysterious and mystifying reason, the Risen Lord, even after transforming his earthly body into a risen body, has chosen to retain the wounds he got from the cross—and to keep them fresh and open.  In fact, to this day, the Risen Christ continues to bear these open gaping wounds in his body.

So the question is:  “Why?”  Why keep the wounds if you can have a totally brand new risen body?

I think we can get a clue from soldiers who have had their share of battles and bear scars from battles in their bodies.  It is not a rare practice for these soldiers to show their scars to friends and to people, if only to prove their heroism and love of country.

Perhaps in the same way, our Lord considers his wounds as marks of his heroism and great love for us, the love that made him end up on the cross.  Maybe every time we think of him, he wants us never to forget his love for us.

Also, soldiers sometimes examine their wounds themselves to remember their experiences and to remind themselves of what they have been through.  Some soldiers have several wounds received from several battles, and they almost have names for every single wound in their body.

Maybe our Lord is also like that.  When he examines the wounds that he continues to bear in his risen body, maybe he is also reading the names of the people for whom he suffered those wounds.  He reads our names, yours and mine, in every wound that he has received in his suffering and death.

When we think about it, we aren’t too different from the Lord when we love.  When we love, we make ourselves vulnerable and often get wounded in the process.  There seems to be no way of getting around that, at least not in this imperfect world of ours.  Interestingly, the Chinese term for “love”—in Hokkien “tia” and in Mandarin “teng”—sounds like “pain,” and that doesn’t seem to be any accident.  When we love, we almost always have to suffer too.  And the reason for this is that when we love, we allow ourselves to be affected by the person we love.   If something not-so-good happens to a dear friend, if our child has a problem, we get hurt and we suffer because we love them.  Or, if the person we love happens to be a klutz—or worse, a bastard—expect your heart to be broken and battered.

But the important thing is to love even if we get hurt.  Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that we should become masochists and let people we love step all over us.  That’s a totally different story.  I’m not talking about the neurotic codependencies that some of us are sometimes suffer from, where we claim that we’re suffering out of love when in fact we’re only doing it out of a neurotic need.

I’m talking about loving in the real sense—wanting and working for what’s best and what’s right for the person we love—and accepting the pain that goes with that.  And often this might mean being tough even if we prefer to give in, saying “no” to the person we love even if he or she would be more pleased with us if we said “yes.”  Sometimes this is more difficult, isn’t it?  And the wounds we get when we do this are deeper and more painful.

That’s the kind of loving that Christ did:  He didn’t insist on giving in to his enemies just to get their love.  He stood his ground because he loved the people so much all he wanted for them was what was right.  That’s why he ended up with wounds, on the cross.

At the end of our lives, our Lord will ask us only one question:  “How have you loved?”  And we will answer not through words but only in silence.  In silence we shall open our hearts full of wounds, and each wound will have a name.

(image:  Caravaggio)