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May 10, 2020
May 12, 2020

Homily for Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter 11 May 2020, Jn 14:21-26

You must have heard already that the first typhoon for this year 2020 has been named AMBO. After the news came out , I started receiving text messages that some people should be getting ready because the storm has been named after the Bishop of Kalookan. Some were asking me by text not to be too violent or devastating. So I posted something on FB to remind people not to always associate typhoons with destruction. This coming typhoon should in fact be welcomed as a blessing because Metro Manila’s water supply is already in a very critical level. If it is not replenished, that will be an additional crisis.
Of course I am aware that people are joking. They know full well that I have no control over a typhoon that just happens to be named Ambo. But imagine what it must be like if people take it for real? Imagine what it was like for Paul and Barnabas to be treated like idols or Greek gods?
In our first reading, Luke tells us that while Paul and Barnabas were on a visit in the Lycaonian city of Lystra, a man who was crippled from birth was able to walk again after St. Paul commanded him to stand up. The people were so amazed that they proclaimed the two of them as “gods who had come in human form. “ They started to worship them and offer sacrifices to them.
I like the way the two apostles reacted; Luke tells us Paul went down—a graphic way of saying he refused to be put on a pedestal and worshipped. The two of them mingled with the people, tore their garments—perhaps to show them that they were for real, they were ordinary mortals with flesh and blood, who experienced the power of invoking the name of Jesus. Paul says, “Why are you doing this? We are human beings with the same weaknesses you have, and we are now telling you to turn away from useless things to the Living God.” In short, what Paul was really telling them was, “I am just a medium, a messenger. Pay attention, not to me, but to my message.”
Paul, tries to explain to them that he was calling attention not to himself but to the “living God and all His goodness. It is God who is giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and providing you with food and filling your hearts with gladness.” Very timely for us too, don’t you think so?
But in the end, Paul’s speech is useless. The people get fixated on the medium, on the messenger, and not on his message. They treat him and Barnabas like idols and offer sacrifice to them. Sometimes I imagine our canonized saints probably wanting to speak like Paul and Barnabas to some of our fellow Catholics who behave like the Lycaonians did. Maybe even our beloved patron saint, San Roque, the Patron of victims of plagues, is getting pressured by his devotees. I imagine him wanting to say something like, “Hey guys, please don’t forget I’m just a human being with the same weaknesses as you. I just tried to follow Jesus our common Lord and master. Thank you for the honor of being called saints, but pls don’t turn us into gods. We’re not. We can only pray for you and invoke with you the name of Jesus.”
There. I have said it as directly as it needs to be said for the sake of some of our fellow Christians from other traditions who think that we Catholics have turned into idol-worshippers. With all due respect, sometimes we really need to be reminded of this, especially when we exaggerate our veneration of the saints and martyrs and forget that there is nothing we venerate in these holy men and women except the Christ whom they have reflected vividly through their exemplary and heroic lives. When we dance to our patron saints and try to obtain favors from them, they might do what Paul and Barnabas did in our first reading—they would jump down from the pedestals and call attention to no one else but the One God who has made himself known to the world through Jesus Christ.
Remember, whatever the apostles, saints and martyrs said and did, they always did in the name of Jesus who acted powerfully through them, just as he continues to act silently but powerfully through us, through you and me, members of his body the Church.
Even Jesus refused to be simply reduced into an idol. Remember how he run away when people wanted to make him king? Remember how the demons speaking in the body of a possessed man proclaimed him as “Son of God the Most High” and Jesus said to him, Shut up!? Remember when Jesus healed the possessed man from the Gerasene region and the man wanted to stay with Jesus but Jesus told him to go back home instead and tell people what God in his mercy had done for him?
In the Gospel today, the other Judas, Thaddeus, asks, “How come you make yourself clearly known to us and not to the world?” It’s obvious to me now, why. He did not want to be reduced to an idol; he called attention only to the kingdom of God.
You see, worship does not always change people. Remember what is written in Psalm 51, “For in sacrifice you take no delight, burnt offering from me you would refuse. My sacrifice is a contrite spirit, a heart humbled and contrite you will not spurn. “. In another passage in Hosea 6:6, the prophet says, “It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice.”
Dear friends, could it be that God allowed our places of worship to be closed temporarily so that we can sincerely ask ourselves if we have not tended to turn our Churches again into temples for idol worship—or mere places for sacrifice? Could we have missed the point about Christ who offers the unique sacrifice—where the priest and the victim, the offerer and the offering have become one? Could we have forgotten the mercy that God desires?
Perhaps this is an opportunity to return to the simple thing that Jesus is asking of us in the Gospel, “If you love me, you will keep my word, and my Father will love you and we will come to you and dwell in you…and send you the Holy Spirit. “
Brothers and sisters, we have heard it said by many people that we cannot just go back to normal after this crisis like we just woke up from a bad dream. It cannot just be more of the same after what we have been through. I know that all other dioceses have been busy trying to define a “new normal” for all of us after this pandemic. Something within me tells me that the new normal that we try to plan again is not going to be normal. That maybe, we should submit it first to a serious discernment process?


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