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Challenging Our Image of God

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 15, 2017 [Matthew 22:1-14]

“Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find!” (Mat 22:1)

made-in-the-image-of-godJesus is already in Jerusalem. The confrontations between Jesus and the Jewish authorities have turned bitter, and Jesus is approaching His final days on earth. With this context, the parable may be understood easily. The invited guests stand for some elite Israelites who refuse Jesus, and thus, reject God Himself. The burning of their towns and cities may point to the invasion of the Roman Empire and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The commoners who are later invited represent the people from all nations who accept Christ. Yet, some people who are already at the Wedding banquet do not wear the expected wedding garment. This proper dress decorum is a basic sign that the guests are honoring the host, and also becomes the symbol of our faith, our good works and our holy lives. For those who fail to honor the King through their garment are thrown out from the banquet.

At that level, the parable is indeed easy to comprehend. We are called not to imitate the example of some elite Israelites but to receive eagerly God’s invitation. As to the wedding garment, we are also expected to live out our faith to the fullest. However, something continues to bother me within this interpretation. It presents a conflicting image of a king that is authoritarian and vengeful and a king who is exceptionally generous, seen in his persistence to invite his first set of guests, and his openness to accept the ordinary people. As to the first image, he exacts his justice in violent ways. Like any king in ancient times, he will destroy the people who dishonor him, to the point of burning their towns or throwing them into darkness. If we are not careful enough, we may identify this king with our image of God. We may believe that our God is a God who rewards the good and punishes the wrongdoers even with severe and violent ways. He is easily offended by simple mistakes, and is not compassionate enough as to give a second chance.

We remember that we are created in the image of God. Now if we have this kind of vindictive and unforgiving God, then we gradually behave like that image of violent God. In the Philippines, where the majority are Christians, the killings of alleged criminals are in steady rise. Surprisingly, some people seem to approve it and even happy with this bloody happenings. This attitude might be a reflection of our image of God that is vengeful and violent.

This kind of God’s image may manifest also in more subtle ways. Despite their sincere apology, it is difficult to forgive a friend who has hurt us, a husband who has betrayed us, or a boss who has acted unjustly. As husband and father, we act like a supreme leader, and refuse to listen to our wives and other family members. As priests, religious sisters, or lay leaders, we think that we are always right and do not accept any correction. We focus on the weakness of others, rather than their struggles to become better. Instead helping them to rise from their failures, we ridicule them and enjoy gossiping about them. These are some instances that we are influenced by the false image of God. This kind of image is only preventing our growth in faith, but also destroying our healthy relationship with others.

I believe that some asects of the parable remain true and relevant, like God’s radical openness to all people, and our faith that has to be lived fully. Yet, in more profound level, the parable challenges our false image of god, the god who is vindictive and violent. It invites us to rediscover God’s image in the person of Jesus who loves us to the end, and dies so that we may live.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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God’s Co-Workers

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 8, 2017 [Matthew 21:33-43]

 There was a landowner who planted a vineyard… (Mat 21:33).”

Red-Vineyard-croppedThe image of a vineyard is close to Israelites’ hearts because this springs from their prophetic tradition. Isaiah uses this metaphor to describe Israel and God (see Isa 5:1-8).  Consistent with this great prophet, Jesus crafts His parable of the vineyard to describe the relation between God and His people. God is the just and generous vineyard owner, and we are His workers. Now, it is up to us to work hard for the Lord in His vineyard and receive abundant harvest, or be lazy, and expelled from the vineyard.

However, there is another way of looking at this parable. For three consecutive Sundays, we have listened to parables that feature a vineyard and people who are involved in this vineyard. If there is one common denominator in these three parables, it is about the difficult and often problematic relationship between the landowner and the workers.

In ancient Israel, big landowners were hiring workers or leasing their land to farmer-tenants. At the end of the day, the workers received their wage, or at the harvest, tenants got their share of their labor. Here the situation became very thorny and conflict-ridden. The owners wanted the highest profit from their land, while the workers desired the greatest income from their labor. At times, the Israelite laborers received very little wage or very small share from the harvest. With very little income, they had to pay high taxes to the Roman colonizers and contributions to the Temple. Thus, what remained was barely enough to feed the family. Disgruntled and hungry workers were very prone to violent actions. However, it was true also that some good landowners gave more than enough wages, but some workers tended to be lazy, abusive to fellow workers, and are even involved in stealing the harvest.

In our time, we seem to face more complex issues in relation to employer, employees and employment. With global networking and communication, an American company may hire Filipino workers working in Manila serving European customers. With almost unrestricted mobility, millions of workers from Indonesia or the Philippines try their luck in Middle East countries. With steady increase of automation, many manual works are gradually replaced by robots. More and more people prefer to buy things or avail service online. One of the hottest debates now in the United Nations is the usage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to “judge” human right cases in the International Tribunal. The AI has become so sophisticated that it can predict the verdicts of human judges. Now, highly skilled human profession like a judge can even be replaced by an AI. Many professions that were trending years ago have become extinct now, and more seem to follow. Yet, despite these advancements and complexity, the fundamental issue remains: whether both the employers and the employees give what is expected and receive with are due to them?

Jesus’ parable is not only relevant for our time, but it continues to challenge our fundamental understanding of our dignity as God’s co-workers in His vineyard. As workers, do our attitudes in the workplaces reflect the good attitudes of Jesus’ followers? As owners or superiors, do we manifest that delicate balance between God’s justice and His generosity? Finally, as God’s co-workers, do we work for a better world for us and future generations, or we simply aim for our selfish interest and greed?

(Note: today is the feast day of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval de Manila, before whom I kneel down every morning and pray for inspiration guiding my Sunday reflections. May she continue to guide us in our journey of faith. Happy Fiesta!)

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

 

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Good Intention

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 1, 2017 [Matthew 21:28-32]

“Which of the two did his father’s will?”  (Mat 21:31)

two_sonsThe road to hell is paved with good intentions. This old proverb attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux may sound rather morbid and threatening, but the truth remains. If we have only good intentions, marvelous plans, or great designs, but we never lift a finger to begin the first step, nothing will happen. We want to focus on our study, yet we are distracted by Facebook’s status and newsfeeds, our online chatting, or endless videos in YouTube, we will not make any progress. We wish to accomplish a lot of works, but our attentions and energy are consumed by so many other concerns. Then, our wish stays a wish.

The parable Jesus shares this Sunday speaks of a good intention or ‘yes’ that can be completely useless if it does not materialize in concrete actions. Yet, more than achieving the highest productivity, the parable teaches us some more primordial truth. At the end of the parable, Jesus asks the Jewish elders, “Which of the two did his father’s will?” The parable teaches us about doing the Father’s will.

From the two sons, we learn that doing God’s will can be tough and demanding. Once I had an exposure with poor farmers in Indonesia. I was staying with a family who tilled their own small and almost barren land, and every morning, they went to the field and make sure that their plants were still alive. Part of my exposure was that I had to help them. Used to the comfort of seminary life, I barely lasted for an hour working under the scorching summer heat, and then rested the entire day while looking at the family working so hard. I imagine that the two sons in the parable are aware of the challenges that they will endure working at the vineyard, and it is expected that the resistance will build up. The first son immediately declines his father’s wish, while the second son says yes.

We might wonder why the second son changes his mind. Perhaps, he has no plan to work there, and what he says is utter lie and deception. Yet, I tend to believe that he has actually a good intention to fulfill his duty, but he is discouraged by the looming hardship he will face in vineyard, and ends up doing nothing at all. Perhaps many of us are like this second son. We intend to help more our Church, yet we are always late going to the Mass, complaining about the priest’s homily, and not participating in the various activities or organizations in the parish. We wish to give glory to God, yet our lives do not manifest a good Christian life as we indulge in gossiping, are envious with other members of the Church, and become choosy in our services. No wonder for some, the Church feels like hell!

We remember that these two men are the sons of the vineyard’s owner and thus, the vineyard essentially belongs to them. If they refuse to work, they will lose their vineyard. The poor family where I stayed for exposure, were working extremely hard despite many difficulties. I realize that all this they did because their small land was what gave them life. Doing God’s will is often challenging, yet in the end, it is for our good. I believe it is not too late to act on our good intentions, and from the second son, we transform into the first son. We are working in the Lord’s vineyard because the vineyard is also ours.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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Unworthy, yet Called

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 24, 2017 [Matthew 20:1-16a]

They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ (Mat 20:1-16)

vineyard ownerJesus is the storyteller genius. The parable he shares to us today does not only surprise us with its unexpected ending, but it also creates a sense of puzzlement and wonder. We expect that the workers who labored the whole day would get the better wage compared to those who came late. Yet, it did not happen. All got the same wage regardless of their working hours. The vineyard owner was right to explain that he did not violate the agreement with his laborers, but deep inside us, there is something quite off. If we were militant enough, we would stage a rally to protest the vineyard owner’s decision.

This sense of puzzlement and perhaps discontent are born because we can easily identify ourselves with the laborers who came early and worked the whole day, perhaps under the scourging sun and bearing heavy load. Many of us are workers who spend 8 hours or more in the workplace, working hard, just to get something to eat and little to save. Or some of us are students who have to study hard for hours just to pass a subject. Surely, we will feel resentment and even anger when we know that some unqualified workers with less work hours or productivity, receive the same and even higher amount of salary. We, students, will get totally disappointed knowing some lazy students, with their substandard, “copy-paste” assignments, get higher grade than us. It just violates our sense of justice.

However, do we really have to identify ourselves with the laborers who worked the whole day? Who knows they are actually not representing us. In God’s eyes, all of us may be like those people who were standing idle the whole day perhaps because no other vineyard owners think that we deserve the job. Indeed, in the final analysis, we are all but unworthy sinners. Pope Francis is loved by many and working hard for the Church. In his visit to Colombia, when he greeted the people on the streets, he got tripped, his eyebrow was slightly cut, and blood came out. Yet, instead calling off the activity, he proceeded. After receiving quick medical treatment, he insisted to continue greeting the people. Despite the pain, he met the people of God even with brighter smile. Pope Francis is like one of the laborers who came early in vineyard. Once he was asked by reporters to describe himself in one word, he answered he was a sinner! If this loving and holy Pope considers himself a sinner, who are we to think that we are the righteous?

Too much focus on ourselves, we often miss the obvious actions of the vineyard owner. He exerts effort to look for laborers, not just once, but four times. This defies the business logic. Why would you hire more if you have enough workers for the day? Why would you spend much for those worked only for one hour? That’s perfect recipe for bankruptcy! The point is not really about business and profit, but about seeking diligently and embracing those who are the lost, the less and the last. It is about us sinners, unworthy of Him, yet God remains faithful in looking for us.

It is truly humbling experience to know that we are “the people idle on the streets” yet God wants us to be part of His family. Now, it is our duty to respond to his Mercy with commitment and love for others. Like the last workers, we have only “one hour”, and it is time to make the best of it for He who has been very merciful.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

 

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Justice of God and Forgiveness

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 17, 2017 [Matthew 18:21-35]

“Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. (Mat 18:27)”

justice-law-scaleWhy is it difficult to forgive? One of the reasons is that after we are wronged, the immediate reaction is to seek justice or even revenge. We want that the pain and the loss we experienced are also felt by those who inflicted them on us. We want “a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye”. Unfortunately, consumed by anger and hatred, our cry for justice can easily turn into an intense desire of revenge. If justice seeks to balance scale, revenge seeks to inflict a greater punishment, or even to destroy those who have harmed us. Unless we get what is due, unless they receive what they deserve, there is no forgiveness.

Despite this intense desire for vengeance, the good news is that the longing for justice is something that is embedded in every human soul. This sense of justice we have and we embrace is what we call human justice. This kind of justice is essential for our daily life because it propels us to reward good works and punish wrong doings. If we work hard for our companies, we deserve a good wage, but if we do not our job, the company has the right to fire us. If we study hard, we expect a good grade and learning, but if we are lazy, we expect no less that a failing mark. If we pay our taxes, we want the government to provide a dependable public service. This sense of justice regulates our daily lives, the school system, work policies and government conducts. Therefore, we are angered by the violence of this justice system. We are angered knowing our officemate who does little, gets the same salary like us. Though I do not want to focus on grade, I am usually pissed off knowing that after exerting much effort, I get a lower grade compared to those who did not study. We will be indignant if our taxes go to the corrupt and incompetent government officials. With this sense of justice, there is no place for forgiveness.

Thus, Peter’s proposal to forgive seven times sounds extraordinary. Yet, Jesus invites us to understand another sense of justice, the justice of God. The human justice begins with us, what we deserve, what is due to us, but the justice of God starts with God. Like the King in the parable, he demands the servant to pay his debt of astronomical amount. This is human justice. Yet, the king knows that he is so rich that the payment of his servant’s debt would not add much to his treasury. Thus, when the servant begs for mercy, the king could easily forgive him. The servant’s debt now turns to be his richness, and from being extremely poor because of the massive debt, he becomes instantly rich. The servant then is expected to perform his master’s justice and to forgive also his fellow servants who owe him a little. Unfortunately, he remains governed by human justice and even consumed by revenge. This brings about his own doom.

We owe God everything, our lives, all what we have, and even our redemption, yet nothing we do for Him can add to his glory. In His mercy, God forgives us. Our massive debt to God has been erased and in fact, transformed into our own richness. Mercy and forgiveness is not only possible but also the hallmark of God’s justice. As we become rich in His justice, we should forgive our brothers and sisters so that they may be also enriched. We forgive because we have been forgiven. We forgive because we are rich in His mercy. We forgive because God’s justice demands it.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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Fraternal Correction

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 10, 2017 [Matthew 18:15-20]

“If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.  (Mat 18:15)”

fraternalcorrectJesus understands that in any human community, including His own community of disciples, or the Church, there are always members affected by human weakness and sinfulness. Even in the Christ-oriented communities like the religious convents, the parishes, and various ministries and groups in the Church, inevitably we are hurting each other. Thus, Jesus, the Just God and merciful man, outlines a procedure or ‘fraternal correction’ to deal with misunderstanding, quarrels, and conflicts. It begins with the individual and personal encounter, then when it does not work, we ask the help of a witness or mediator, and lastly it goes up to the community level.

Every stage is important, but the first step is always decisive. The first level is challenging because it requires both humility to accept one’s weakness as well as prudence to express the message of reconciliation in a charitable manner. Yet, the temptation is that either we skip this preliminary level or we execute it without charity. Without mercy, things will just get worse, and the individual encounter will collapse or even turn violent. Often also, to avoid direct confrontation, we jump to the next level. Instead talking personally and privately to the person, we expose them to the public. Either we talk behind them, even creating gossips, or we shame and humiliate them in public. I myself are struggling with this process of fraternal correction. I am basically introvert, and I have tendency to keep things to myself and avoid direct confrontation. Things may seem peaceful, but I know I do not resolve the problems.

The first step is fundamental because after all, we all are members the same community, the same Church. We are all children of God, and thus, brothers and sisters to one another. As our Father in heaven deals mercifully with us, we are also learning to deal with others in mercy. Being merciful means willing to talk and try to understand the other side of the corner. Often, after being offended, we just do nothing but harbor prejudices, then fueling more anger and grudges, but perhaps, they have their own stories that need to be heard. Once in my Postulancy, I got annoyed with an outspoken brother who often criticized me. Later, I discovered also many brothers had the same sentiment. Sometimes, things got escalated, and some brothers refused to talk to him anymore. Till one day, we had a faith sharing, and we learned that he came from a dysfunctional family. His father left the family, and as the oldest son, he had to work and assume the responsibilities for his younger siblings. He had a hard life and he had to be tough also to discipline his younger siblings. Then, we understood why he was also tough with us, his younger brothers.

Often we understand the stages of fraternal correction ends with things settled by the community or Church, but actually Jesus offers one final step. We need to pray. Before we begin the entire process, we should pray. When we bring things to God in prayer, we are no longer controlled by emotions, we start to suspect the good in others, and we have more serenity to forgive. At the end of the process, we pray together asking for forgiveness and healing. My friend and brother in the Order, John Paul, does not agree that time heals. For him, time does not heal, but only God heals. We remember that when two or three people, especially those are in conflict, gather together in prayer, Jesus is there.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

 

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The Enemy

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 3, 2017 [Matthew 16:21-27]

“Get behind me, Satan!” (Mat 16:23)

ignatius n francisWe come to one of the most heated exchange of words in the Gospel, and this occurs no less than between Jesus and Simon Peter. The apostle rebukes Jesus for revealing to the disciples that he has to go Jerusalem, suffer and die, but be raised on third day. In return, Jesus reproofs him and calls him Satan. Why does this harsh quarrel take place between Jesus, the most merciful Lord, and his trusted disciple, Simon whom he has just declared as the Rock?

If we try to enter the shoes of Peter, we will understand that what Peter does is something very human. Peter loves his Master and he does not want something bad to happen to Jesus. As a friend, he is ready to prevent Jesus do silly things that will harm Him.  Often, we act like Peter.  We disagree with our good friend who wants to help the street children in a notorious depressed area in Manila. Parents often dismiss their young children’s wish to enter the seminary or convent. Despite being in need of financial stability, any family will lodge opposition against its member who wish to go and work abroad. To wish for safety and wellbeing of our loved ones is just part of our human psychological makeup.

It is just Peter’s human tendency to keep Jesus safe. Yet, why does Jesus need to harshly rebuke Peter and call him ‘Satan’? In the Bible, the word ‘Satan’ has several meanings. The first common understanding is that Satan is the chief evil spirit that wages war against God and humanity. Yet, ‘Satan’ may also mean a man, woman or entity who acts as an adversary or an enemy. In ancient court setting, ‘Satan’ plays the role of the fierce accuser. Literally, Peter may fall under Satan’s temptation in delaying the plan of God, but it may also mean that calling Peter ‘Satan’ Jesus perceives Peter as acting like ‘Satan’, an adversary to Jesus’ mission, and one who accuses Jesus of doing stupid things. By following human tendency, Peter is in opposition to God’s saving plan.

However, how do we know that we begin to act as an enemy to God’s will? Like Simon Peter, we must wrestle to discover God’s will in our lives. Perhaps, encouraging our friend to work with the poor is the right decision. Perhaps, supporting our children to enter seminary is the best option. Perhaps, staying behind with the family rather than going abroad is a better choice. We never know what the future brings. Yet, Jesus gives us a guideline. When we cling too much to our own lives, are obsessed to keep our space small, and gain the world just for ourselves, we must know that we have become ‘Satan’ to God’s ever-expanding love.

Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier were among the first Jesuits. Both were close friends since they met in Paris as they shared the same room, table and books. As the general of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius had the authority to assign his friend close to him, yet this means to curtail Francis’ gift to love enormously. Ignatius eventually sent Francis as a missionary, and allowed him to spread the faith and expand his love for people of the Far East. Francis Xavier would be always remembered as one the greatest missionaries in the Church. It is when we deny ourselves, our selfish desires, and carry the cross of love, that we genuinely follow Jesus as His disciples.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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Name and Story

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 27, 2017 [Matthew 16:13-20]

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (Mat 16:16)”

happy chilren 2Today’s Gospel is well known as the Confession of Peter. Jesus asks the disciples who He is, and Simon confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He gets it right, and Jesus Himself reveals that his answer does not come from his human weakness, but from the heavenly Father. I used to think that this revelation is an instant inception of divine idea inside Simon’s mind. Right there and then, like Archimedes who discovered the Law of Hydrostatic, Simon also shouts “Eureka! I have found it!”

However, I realize there is a different understanding of revelation. It is not an instant one, but a revelation that involves Simon’s entire life as well as his active participation. Simon is able to formulate his answer because God has led him to meet Jesus, and on his part, Simon decides to follow him and live as his disciple. The revelation comes through a long process of listening, witnessing and sometimes, misunderstanding his Master. Simon sees Jesus’ miracles. He hears Jesus’ teachings. He feels Jesus’ compassion for the poor and the afflicted. Simon gradually recognizes Jesus personally and intimately. Simon’s confession is born of this intimate knowledge and friendship. He knows Jesus’ story, and at the right moment, he is ready to share his story of Jesus with others.

This is not far from our daily experiences. When we address our loved ones and close friends, we do not just call them with ordinary names, but names imbued with our intimate stories. My mother simply calls me Bayu, but I know that it is a lot different from a stranger who calls my name. Often, we also have terms of endearment. Among close friends in the Philippines, we call each other as “Friend”, “Friendship”, “Best”, “Bessy” among other. These names are beautiful because we hold each other’s stories dearly. Indeed, our humanity is conceived because our ability to gather our common stories and to share them confidently.

Therefore, it is a serious offense to our humanity when we suppress other people’ stories, and address them with improper words. Our refusal to recognize the others’ stories is in fact, the root of many discriminations, like racism, sexism, and fundamentalism. The worst is when we erase all together the names and the stories behind them. Victor Frankl, the author of “Man’s Search for Meaning” was once a prisoner at Nazi’s camps. He narrated how prisoners were called by set of number as their identity, like prisoner 1234, and gradually they also lost their humanity, as they were treated, tortured and disposed as mere numbers.

The war on drug in the Philippines has been one of the bloodiest in the Philippine history. Thousands have been killed, the suspects, the law-enforcers, and even innocent civilians. Yet, many do not care, “Anyway, it is just number and statistics.” Till Kian, a teenager student, was mercilessly killed allegedly by the law-enforcers, and the event recorded in CCTV camera awakens the nation’s conscience. The investigation was held by the Senate and Kian’s parents faced the alleged killers of their son. During this hearing, the parents narrated Kian’s stories as an ordinary boy who aspired to become a policeman himself. Kian began to emerge to be a human person with stories, hopes and dreams, not just a faceless number. And the mother ended her statement by saying to the alleged perpetrators, “Ama ka rin (You are also a father).” It was not only a call to their conscience, but also reminder to all of us that we fail as humanity if we no longer listen to and share our stories.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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The Canaanite Woman and Mother

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 20, 2017 [Matthew 15:21-28]

“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters (Mat 15:27)”

canaanite woman 2Why does Jesus, the compassionate man and just God, have to “humiliate” the Canaanite woman? If we put ourselves in the context of Jesus’ time and culture, we will understand that what Jesus does is just expected of him. Jesus is dealing with a woman of gentile origin. Generally, Jews avoid contacts with the non-Jews, and a Jewish man does not engage in dialogue with a woman who is not his wife or family in public. Jesus does what every Jewish man has to do. However, in the end, Jesus praises the woman’s faith and heals her daughter. Eventually, mercy overcomes differences and love conquers all.

How big is this woman’s faith? If we carefully read the dialogue between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, there are three stages of humiliation. Firstly, the woman cries out loudly to Jesus, addressing him as Lord, Son of David, and asks for pity for her daughter. Jesus ignores her.  Secondly, the woman keeps crying out, and Jesus refuses her with a reason that he is sent only to the Jews. Thirdly, the woman touches the ground and worships Jesus, begging for the life of her daughter. Jesus associates her with a dog, perhaps because the relationship between the Jews and the Gentile in this region has become so sour that they call each other as dogs. Yet, despite these series of humiliation, the woman perseveres and wittily answers that even dogs receive mercy from their master. There is a progression of humiliation, yet there is also progression of humility and faith. From someone outside the group, she persistently makes her way inside to the point of ‘under the table’ of her master.

What inspires such great humility and faith? I believe that it is her far greater love. She is not just a woman and a Canaanite, she is also a mother. We know good parents, especially a mother, would do practically anything for their children. There is a natural bond between a mother and the child of her womb, a bond that empowers a woman to even sacrifice her life. Jesus allows this humiliation because He knows well the capacity of this mother to love. God allows things to get messy in our lives, because He knows well our capacity to love which can grow exponentially.

Let me end this little reflection with a story. on the day of graduation in one of the top universities in the Philippines, a young man, top of his batch, gave his valedictory remarks. He narrated a story of a young woman who was expecting a child. Yet, she was diagnosed with a dangerous illness that required aggressive treatments. The medication may cure her, but it will be too strong for the infant inside her womb.  So, she was left with a choice either to choose her life or her baby’s. Many encouraged her to let the baby die since she has a bright future, a promising career. Yet, to the surprise of all, she decided not to take the medication, and allowed her baby live. Trusting to her baby to her husband, she died after giving birth to a healthy little Babyboy. Then, with teary eyes, the young valedictorian revealed to all that he was that little baby. He is able to live, to grow, and achieve his dream because his mother loved him so much to the point of giving her own life for him.

We remember and thank our mothers who have loved and sacrificed a lot for us. And just like them, God calls us to have faith and love that make us bigger than our small lives.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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Ocean

 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 13, 2017 [Matthew 14:22-33]

 “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  (Mat 14:31)

jesus rescues peter - korea Ocean is a gift to humanity. For many of us, ocean means a great variety of seafood, a place to spend our vacation. When we imagine a vast sea with beautiful beach, we are ready to enjoy swimming, snorkeling or diving. However, for millions of fishermen and seafarers, sea simply means life as they depend their lives and their families on the generosity of the sea, the resources it offers, and the works it generates. Unfortunately, the sea is not always merciful. The sea is home to powerful storms and with its giant waves that can even engulf the biggest of ships. With the effects of global warming, massive sea pollution and destructive ways of fishing, it is getting hard to get a good catch. Novelist Ernest Hemingway in his book “The Old Man and the Sea” narrates a life of fisherman who after risking his life to catch a giant fish, brings home nothing but a fishbone as his catch was consumed by other fishes. Majority of fishermen who continue struggling with lingering debt and difficulty to get fuel for their boats, become poorer by the day. These make fishermen and seafarers a perilous profession.

The Sea of Galilee is not a sea at all, but technically a lake. Certainly, it is a lot safer than the open sea, but the Gospels constantly tell us that the lake can be deadly sometimes even to seasoned fishermen like Peter and other apostles. Like Peter and the apostles, Filipino Dominican missionaries to Babuyan group of islands at the northern tip of the Philippines know well what it means to be at the mercy of the ocean. To go to their mission stations, they have to cross a sea strait by a small boat for around 4 to 8 hours. It might be a tiny strait, but it is a wild and dangerous one because it connects to two great seas, the Pacific Ocean on the east and South China Sea or West Philippine Sea on the west. When the sea is rough and the boat is hit and tossed by the giant waves, it is the time when our missionaries and all others in the boat to pray, and perhaps it is their sincerest prayer ever. When at the mercy of the ocean, we begin to realize that what matters most in life is actually life itself, and as only this life that we hold dear, everything else seems to be trivial and passing.

However, there comes the paradox. In the midst of raging ocean, holding on to fragile life, we begin to be closest to the creator of life Himself. The mighty sea washes away those things that stand between us and God. All those things that add layers upon layers to our lives are swept away. As we achieve wealth, physical beauties, educational attainments, physical beauties, possessions and honor, we tend to be full of ourselves, and become more independent from God who grants us those blessings. Like Peter, our faith becomes little, relying too much on ourselves. Then, when the storm comes and we begin to sink, we realize that all those achievements will not save us.

What are those things in our lives that stand between us and God? Are we like Peter, a man of little faith? What are the stormy sea experiences in our lives? How do you encounter God in these stormy sea experience?

 Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP