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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bishop Tagle on the Gift of Family and Life

The Gift of Family and Life

Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, our beloved priests and religious, our Honorable members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, our beloved lay people, the valiant lay people.

We are gathered for this Eucharistic celebration in thanksgiving to God for the gift of life and for the energy that has been given to us to promote and defend life.

We also want to pray, we have to pray because the forces against life are always present. Let us not delude ourselves that we have only one enemy, that life has only one enemy. There are many faces of those that are against life, so we have to pray. And in this thanksgiving mass, we want to strengthen our resolve to work together to defend God’s precious gift of life. And since it is Lent, a holy season when we are invited to reflect on the meaning of the life, Jesus’ has won for us, through His Paschal Mystery, let us allow the readings for today to help us develop a spirituality. I repeat, a spirituality towards the defense of life.

That is one contribution that Christians should make in this whole debate and I’m challenging all of us here to check ourselves, to reposes the right spirit in our defense of life. Are we coming from a deep commitment to God? Or are we coming from other agenda which in the end might prove to be counter life. Humanda po tayong lahat, maganda ang sasabihin ng mga pagbasa, at sana maging bukas tayong lahat para magpasuri sa mga pagbasa tungkol sa hinahanap ng Salita ng Diyos sa mga nagiging propeta para sa buhay. Prophets of life, prophets for life, how do we distinguish them? What makes someone a prophet of life and a prophet for life?

In the first reading, from the prophet Jeremiah, we see the sorry state, the miserable state of a prophet, he goes around proclaiming God’s word, and what does he gets? The people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem were conniving against him, they were plotting against him. They were carefully noting his words. They wanted to eliminate him, the destiny of every prophet. And Jeremiah knows it. He knows the evil forces that were plotting against him. The one sent by God, the God of life, the God who wants to restore life. And what is the response of Jeremiah? He breaks into a prayer. He turns to God, the God who calls him, and his prayer in the whole book, you may want to look the book of Jeremiah, the prayer of the prophet Jeremiah is simple, very open, you can see the humility of this prophet, he talks to God openly. He tells God, heed O Lord and listen to what my adversaries say, should good be repaid with evil. Sa tagalog maganda, Diyos, ano ba? Naririnig mo ba yung kanilang pinagbubulong-bulungan? Nagbubulung-bulungan sila sa kanilang mga caucus, naririnig mo ba o Diyos? Hindi nila pinaririnig sa amin, naririnig mo ba o Diyos? Naririnig ng Diyos.

And Jeremiah reminds God in his prayer, remember, I stood before you, to speak in their behalf, to turn away your raft from them. Jeremiah was very clear about his role, he was not there only to speak to people on behalf of God, he was there to speak to God on behalf of the people, so that God’s raft may be turned away from the people. The prayer of Jeremiah, so open to God, and in his prayer he’s role gets clarified for him.

If we go to chapters later, the 20th chapter, you see Jeremiah in his prayer again, struggling with God. I don’t know how many of us pray to God this way, Jeremiah even said, God, you fooled me, and in exasperation he said, and I allowed myself be fooled by You. Because you were stronger than I was, and looked at what was happened to me, because I spoke your word, he even curse the day that he was born because of the suffering that he undergoes. For the sake of the Word of God and for the sake of the people. And he tells God openly, I want to retreat, I want to give up. No more. Ayaw ko na. But then he says, when I discovered Your Word, I devow your Word, and whenever I try to runaway, I feel Your Word like a fire burning within me. A fire flaming my bones, I cannot run away. I maybe subjected to suffering but I’m committed to Your Word. Your Word is in me, Your Word is in my bones. I cannot escape Your Word. This is the commitment that every person who defends life must have and it has a clear source, not any self seeking, not any agenda for my sake. Jeremiah the prophet only had one reason, I am consumed by the flame of the Word of God, burning in my bones. Even before the adversaries could burn them. He was already burning within him with the fire of the Word of God. That type of prophet is an assailable, that type of prophet is beyond all compromises and pride because the source of fire is burning within spirituality.

So I’m inviting all of us to turn to Jeremiah, to turn to his sufferings and to marvel at how such a person stipped in ridicule and adversity could sustain his prophetic role in the purity of his commitment to the Word of God.

This is fulfilled in the prophet who is much greater than Jeremiah, because He is the Son of God, Jesus. In the Gospel, Jesus plainly tell His disciples of His destiny. They were going to Jerusalem where we would be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes who were condemned Him to death.

He would be handed over to the Gentiles. He will be mocked, he will be scourged, he will be crucified. But on the third day, he will rise from the dead. But Jesus interprets the meaning of his sufferings at the end of this passage, He says the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to hive His life as a ransom for the many.

The death of Jesus was not a case of other people claiming His life. For Jesus, His death was really an act of service. He will serve even if it means giving My whole life. My last breath will be my last act of service. And so nobody takes His life away from Him. I give my life as a ransom for the many. Life is always a gift. God gives life and no one should take away life. Life as a gift should continue being a gift.

The moment life is taken away, we destroy the very nature of life as gift. And Jesus says so, even His dying in the Gospel of John, he says, no one takes my life away from me, I lay it down freely. I give my life as a gift and no one should take it away. There is only one interpretation on the death of Christ that matters to us according to the Gospel, His death has been faced by Jesus as the ultimate giving of Himself in the form of service. Again, this is part of our spirituality. We will be offering our lives for life, we will be offering our lives for the sanctity of life. But let it be fueled by the spirit of Christ, just like Jeremiah, only one motive, loving service. That makes the fight for life redemptive. Loving service, if I do not give my life out of service, then I am actually claiming the lives of others, misusing the lives of other. It is only in that purity of intention that we find in Jeremiah and in Jesus were life is truly served.

But my dear brothers and sisters, we have to be warned because in the middle of the Gospel for today, we find the sons of Zebedee, James and John, Jesus has 3 closest friends among the 12, Peter, James and John. And in the Gospel, we find the mother, the mother of James and John, approaching Jesus with a request, command that this 2 sons of mine will seat one at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom. They missed the point, and this is the warning to all of us. We might missed the point.

Katatapos pa lang ng napaka-dramatic na pagpapaliwanag ni Jesus, wa effect. At mga kaibigan pa, mga kaibigan, the closest, pati naman yung nanay naki-alam pa, yung nanay ni John and James, expert sa lobby, mahusay maglobby. Pero yung mga nagla-lobby nay an, sometimes they think what they are talking about, but they missed the point. They could not understand this new kingdom, this kingdom of life that will come when life is given as a gift. In their minds, life is preserved only through prestige, power, positions, and for that life they will sacrifice other lives. This is the history of humanity which Christianity wants to counter. The end to sacrificing lives is by the spirituality of life given as gift and service. And so Jesus, patiently turned to them, ask them, can u drink of the cup that I will drink of and can you be baptized in the baptism that I will undergo, meaning are you ready to undergo my life giving death. For it is only in life given in service this life promoted. 

Two figures, Jeremiah, Jesus, life threatened but they took the threat and transformed the threat into love, service and life is nit threatened anymore, life remains a gift given to others and others live because of Jesus. We hope that our defense of life will go to that deep part of ourselves, where Jesus has ford the Holy Spirit transforming us into true prophet of life, patterned after Jesus Himself. Let us pause and enter into our hearts and allow the face of Jesus to challenge us to ask us deep and disturbing questions about the spirituality of our commitment to life.

H/t to Ash Paul.

Photo is from the FB account of "Tito Robert Sfldop".

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