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Shake the Dust Off Your Feet

The fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [July 15, 2018] Mark 6:7-13

Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them. (Mk. 6:11)

feet and sandOur Gospel today speaks of the mission of the Twelve. They are sent to perform the threefold task: to exorcise the evil spirits, to heal the sick and to preach repentance. This threefold missionary duty reflects Jesus’ mission also in the Gospel according to Mark. To facilitate their preaching ministry, they need to travel light. No extra baggage, no extra burden. They need to travel two by two as a sign of communal and ecclesial dimension of the mission. They shall depend also their sustenance on the generosity of the people. And, when they face rejection, they shall shake the dust off their feet as a symbolic judgment against those who reject them. In ancient time, the Jews shake the dust off their feet when they reenter the Israel soil from the Gentile territories, as a sign of disowning and disapproval of the Gentiles nations.

I am presently having a clinical pastoral education in one of the hospitals in Metro Manila. The program trains me to become a good and compassionate chaplain. One of the basic tasks of a chaplain is to visit the patients, and during our visit, we are to listen to the patients and journey with them as a companion of the sick. To a certain extent, I feel that I am participating in the mission of the twelve Jesus’ disciples, especially in the ministry of healing the sick. However, unlike Jesus’ disciples, I am aware that I do not have the gift of miraculous healing. I often pray for and together with the patients, but so far there is no instantaneous healing, and patients continue to struggle with their sickness. However, the healing is not limited only to physical and biological aspects. It is holistic and includes the emotional and spiritual healing. Our doctors, nurse, and other hospital staffs have done their best to cure their patients’ illness, or at least to help them to bear their illness with dignity. I do believe that they are essentially and primarily Jesus’ co-workers in the ministry of healing. However, with so much load work they carry and limited time and energy, they have to focus on what they are trained for. The chaplains are there to fill in the gaps, to tie the loose ends, to attend to the emotional and spiritual needs.

In my several visits, I am grateful that many are welcoming my presence. However, at times, I feel also unwelcome. At this kind of moment, I am tempted to “shake the dust off my feet” as the testimony against them. After all, the disciples are instructed to do that. However, at the second thought, I try to understand why the patient is not so welcoming. Perhaps, they are in pain. Perhaps, they need rest. Perhaps, the medication affects their emotional disposition. Perhaps, they still have some serious issues that they need to deal with. With this awareness, I cannot simply judge them as “bad guy”. Trying to understand them and empathize with them, I also “shake the dust off my feet”, but this time, it is not the testimony against them, but it is to shake the “dust” of misunderstanding, rash judgment, and apathy. A chaplain is one who carries the mission of Christ to bring healing, and if I address rejection and difficulty with anger and hatred, then I just create more pain and illness.

Whether we are medical professionals or not, all of us are called to participate in this healing ministry of Jesus Christ. All of us are wounded and in pain with so many problems and issues we have in life. Thus, it is our call to bring healing to our family, to our friends, to our society, to our natural environment, and to our Church. This begins with our willingness to “shake the dust off our feet”, the dust of fear and wrong pre-judgment, the dust of rush emotional reactions in the face of challenging situations.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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Lack of Faith

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [July 8, 2018] Mark 6:1-6

He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mk. 6:6)

holy family carpentry shopWhen Jesus teaches in the synagogue in Nazareth, the listeners are amazed by his wisdom. Jesus speaks like a mighty prophet. However, the people soon make a background check on Jesus, and they realize Jesus’ identity and his family background.  Nazareth is a small rural town in Galilee, and everyone knows everyone in this kind of setting. The people of Nazareth know Jesus as a son of a carpenter, and himself a carpenter. They are familiar also with Jesus’ family and relatives.

It is just impossible for a carpenter, an artisan who spends most of his time doing manual labor to acquire such profound wisdom. The people of Nazareth also recognize that Jesus is a son of Mary and they know His relatives. It seems the people are aware that Jesus’ relatives are just ordinary and poor Jews. None of them seems to possess a notable personality. Jesus should stay where He belongs: an ordinary Jewish and a poor laborer. Thus, to become a charismatic preacher and an admirable rabbi is simply unthinkable. Jesus, recognizes the root cause: lack of faith.

We are living two millennia after Christ, but unfortunately, this debilitating mentality continues to exist and even thrive in our midst. It is a mentality that boxes people in their limitations and suppresses their potential to grow and improve. This is the mentality that fuels fundamentalism, racism, negative stereotypes, and other destructive ideologies that divide people. Once a loser, always a loser; once an Asian, always an Asian; once an addict, always an addict. Yet, this mentality does not only reside the big ideologies, but it also affects our personal lives: when we think we are always right, and others are always wrong; when we believe that we are holier than others; when we only trust ourselves; when we refuse to forgive others; when we cling to our pride.

Dealing with this crippling mentality, Jesus brings to the fore the reality that humans are beings with faith. With faith, that is the spiritual gift from God; we are empowered to go beyond our own cultural, mental, bodily limitations. In the Gospels, faith enable God’s power to do much more in persons’ lives, and the same faith inspires us to see God’s works in us. The paralytic is healed because of the faith of his friends who carry him to Jesus (Mark 2:1-6); the woman with hemorrhage is healed because of her faith (Mark 5:25-34); Jesus tells Jairus, the synagogue official to have faith and Jesus brings his daughter to life (Mark 5:35-43).

I am currently doing my pastoral work as a chaplain in one of the hospitals in Metro Manila. My duty is to visit the patients, to give blessing and minister the Holy Communion, but fundamentally, to be with them and listen to them. I cannot do much in term of physical cure, but I realize that sickness is not only physical. Healing includes psychological and spiritual aspects. I journey with the patients in their joy, sorrow, frustration, and hope. I accompany them as they try to resolve some issues like anger, broken relationship, and painful memories. As I walk with them, I also realize my weaknesses. Yet, despite this brokenness, people with faith have always found strength and courage to heal, to go beyond themselves and live a meaningful life.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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Woman of Faith

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [July 1, 2018] Mark 5:21-43

“Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” (Mk. 5:34)

woman with hemorrhage 2Today’s Gospel seems to be just another healing miracles of Jesus, but if we read it closely, the story of the healing of the woman with hemorrhage is extraordinary tale of faith. We are not sure what kind of hemorrhage she suffers, but the fact that she bears the sickness for 12 years, spends a lot for the medication, and does not get any better, means it is pretty serious, if not terminal. During this time, the physicians are extremely rare, and expectedly, the patients need to spend a lot of money. The woman may come from a wealthy family, but she is impoverished because her prolong sickness. The woman is losing her life and facing despair. I am currently assigned as an associate chaplain in one of the hospitals in Metro Manila, and my duty is to make pastoral visit to these patients. I encounter some patients who are suffering from certain health conditions that drain all their resources, and it seems the situation does not get any better. I realize the story of the woman with hemorrhage is not only her story happened in the far past, but it is also our stories here and now.

 We must not forget that our protagonist is also a woman. Being a woman in the time of Jesus means being a second-class citizen in a patriarchal society and often, they are considered as mere properties of the husbands or the fathers. Generally, while the men work outside and socialize, women are expected to stay at home, and function as the housekeepers and babysitters. Normally, they are not allowed to communicate with the outsiders, especially men, except under the supervision of their husbands or fathers. Our protagonist is also having chronic hemorrhage, and this means she is ritually unclean, and those who are in contact with her shall be made unclean as well (Lv. 15:19).

The woman with hemorrhage has faith in Jesus and wants to be healed, yet to do that, she has to challenge the cultural norms that bind her. She traverses into greater danger. What if she is not healed? What if she makes Jesus and His disciples unclean? What if she will be branded as a shameless woman by the society? Shame restrains her, but faith propels her. Thus, she takes a ‘win-win’ approach. She tries to reach Jesus’ cloth, and she makes sure that she will not establish any contact with Jesus. Miracle happens, and she is healed. Yet, unfortunately, Jesus finds her. In tremble and fear, she fells down before Jesus and confesses. She is afraid not only because she “snatches” the power from Jesus, but because she has broken the standing cultural norms and the Law of Moses. However, Jesus’ response surprises his disciples and all who witness the event. Instead of castigating her for culturally improper behavior, Jesus praises her faith, “Daughter your faith has saved you.”

Indeed it is her faith that makes her a proactive protagonist of this particular story. She refuses to succumb to despair and makes her way all the way to Jesus. We notice most of the actions in this story is performed by the woman, and Jesus is there to affirm her. Rightly, Jesus calls her “daughter” acknowledging her also as the descendants of Abraham, the father of great faith. The story of a woman of hemorrhage is a journey of a woman of faith. It is a faith that grows even in the midst of hopeless situations of sickness, financial crisis, and uncertain future. It is a faith that thrives in the middle of human limitations, and transcend cultural boundaries. It is a faith that moves a mountain.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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A Child as a Gift

Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist [June 24, 2018] Luke 1:57-66, 80

“The Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.” (Lk. 1:58)

child in churchToday we are celebrating the birth of John the Baptist. Two figures emerge as the protagonists of our today’s Gospel, Elizabeth, and Zachariah. Luke describes the couple as “righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. (Luk 1:6)”. But, they have no child. The possibility to have a child is close to zero as Elizabeth is perceived to be barren and Zachariah is already old. In ancient Jewish society, children are considered to be a blessing of the Lord and a source of honor, and barrenness is a curse and shame.

However, the archangel Gabriel appears to Zachariah and tells him that his wife will get pregnant despite her barrenness and his advanced age. Paying close attention to their names, we may discover even richer meaning. Zachariah, from the Hebrew word “Zakar” means to remember, and Elizabeth, a compound Hebrew words, “Eli,” and “Sabath” means God’s oath or promise. Thus, both names may mean God remembers His promise. In the Bible, when God remembers, it does simply mean God recalls something from memory, but it means God fulfills what He has promised. As God has fulfilled His promise to Zachariah’s ancestors, so God also remembers His promise to Elizabeth. The story of Elizabeth reverberate the stories of great women in the Old Testament: Sarah (Gen 15:3; 16:1), Rebekah (Gen 25:21), Rachel (Gen 29:31; 30:1), the mother of Samson and wife of Manoah (Jdg 13:2-3), and Hannah (1Sa 1:2).

What is God’s promise to Elizabeth and Zachariah, and eventually to all of us? St. Luke the evangelist points to us that God’s promise is to show His great mercy to Elisabeth and Zachariah (see Luk 1:58). The birth of John the Baptist is a sign of God’s mercy towards the righteous couple. Thus, the birth of every child is a sign of God’s promise fulfilled, a sign of God’s mercy to every parent. We recall that mercy is not something we deserve. Mercy is the embodiment of gratuitous love, the gift of love. Mercy is an utter gift. Through every child, God shows His great mercy to us, and together with Elizabeth and Zachariah, we shall rejoice because of this gift.

We are living in the world that is increasingly uncomfortable with the presence of the little children around us. There is this new fundamentalist mentality creeping into millennial generation. It is a mentality that promotes individual success as the prime and absolute value of happiness. Thus, anything that stands in its way has to be eradicated. This includes marriage, family life and finally children. They are no longer seen as a gift to be received with gratitude, but liabilities to be avoided. When I visited South Korea last year, my Dominican Korean friend told me that young generation of Korea is working very hard to the point that they longer consider marriage and having children as their priorities. Indeed, unlike in the Philippines or Indonesia, it was not easy to spot little children playing freely. I guess the decline in population growth is a problem in many progressive countries.

We deny neither the fact that it is a backbreaking responsibility to raise children nor the reality that not all of us are called to become parents. However, it is also true that children are a gift not only to the particular family, but to the entire humanity, and thus, every one of us has the sacred call to protect and take care of the wellbeing of our children. We shall protect our children from any form of child abuse, from the debilitating effects of poverty, from the egocentric and contraceptive mentality and from evil of abortion. To honor a gift is to honor the giver, and thus, to honor every child is to honor the God who gives them to us.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

 

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The Death of Priesthood

(a reflection of a religious brother for three Filipino priests who recently martyred)

June 17, 2018

paez ventura niloThe Catholic Church in the Philippines is once again in profound grief after one of her priests was mercilessly murdered. Fr. Richmond Nilo, from the diocese of Cabanatuan was shot several times just before he celebrated the mass at a chapel in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija. His body was laying on the floor at the foot of the image of Blessed Virgin, soaked with blood. Another disturbing and painful image. He becomes the third priest losing his life in a bloody attack in the past six months. On December 4, 2017, Fr. Marcelito Paez was ambushed in Jean, Nueva Ecija. Just a few weeks ago on April 29, Fr. Mark Ventura was also gunned down moment after celebrating the mass. We may also include Fr. Rey Urmeneta who was attacked by a hit man in Calamba, Laguna. He sustained a bullet in his body, yet he survived death.

Several weeks ago I wrote an emotional reflection on the death of Fr. Ventura (see “A Death of Priest) and I would never hope that I would write another one. Yet, just sometime after the priest was buried without justice being served, Fr. Nilo lost his life in the line of duty. Surely, this is not the first time a priest is killed in the Philippines. The history has witnessed the killing of both Filipino and foreign priests in this land, but to lose three lives in just six months is truly alarming. I was asking myself, “Are we now living in the perilous time for priests? Is to become a priest a dangerous vocation? What’s the point of becoming a priest if it brings nothing but persecution and death?” We have left everything for Christ, our family, our future. Should we give up our lives in this heinous manner as well?

These questions are valid, yet these questions also, I realize, spring from fear. Many priests and even seminarians, myself included, have lived in the comfort of our seminaries, parishes or convents. Provided with readily available basic necessities, with individual rooms, with good-quality education, with other facilities and even amenities, we are actually living as middle-class bachelors. These privileges are meant to make us better and well-formed priests for the service of the people, but getting used to these facilities, we often lose sight of their primary purpose. Our priesthood is called as the ministerial priesthood because the ordained priests are to serve the people of God, but sometimes, the priests end up being served by the people of God. At times, the virus of clericalism and careerism infect our minds. Ordinations and positions in the Church are seen as promotions, career, or prestige. A better position means better perks! If the priesthood is just another way to make us rich, we have lost the priesthood even before we die! The death of a priest is terrible sorrow, but the death of priesthood in our hearts is tragedy!

Bishop Pablo David, DD of Caloocan, Metro Manila, reminds seminarians who are aspiring to become priests, that if the deaths of the priests gave them discouragement, rather than inspiration, it is better for them to forget the priesthood and leave the seminary as soon as they can. Bishop David notes that they are not helpless victims, but rather martyrs that bravely choose to face the dangerous consequence of preaching the Gospel and working for justice.

Since the beginning of Christianity, to become Christians and especially priests are dangerous vocations because we follow Christ in His way of the Cross. Yet, the martyrdom of the three priests turns out to be a shock therapy that wakes us up from our comfortable slumber. It is a call for many of us, seminarians, religious, and priests to ask what the purpose of our priesthood is. Have we died every day to ourselves? Are we ready to give up our lives to God and His people? Are we ready to follow Christ till the end?

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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Jesus and His Family

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time [June 10, 2018] Mark 3:20-35

“For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother (Mrk 3:35).”

family
photo by Harry Setianto, SJ

In ancient Israel as well as in many Asian and African cultures, family and kinship are core to one’s identity. The family is practically everything. A person is born, growing, getting old and dying within a family and clan. In traditional Filipino and Indonesian settings, a house is meant for an extended and expanded family. Several generations are living in one house. When I ask some of my Filipino friends, “If your house is burning, what are the first things you will save?” Their answer is not money, important documents or jewelry, but family pictures! In 1977, the Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, one of the most prominent African figures during that time, visited the US and talked before the African students who studied there. Before them, he criticized those Africans who received much support from their families and clan, yet refused to go back after their studies. It was an act of cowardice and betrayal to Africa.

 

However, closely reading today’s Gospel from Mark, a good family-oriented and devoted Catholic will be startled. Naturally, we would expect Jesus to welcome Mary, his mother, and his relatives who come and look for Him. Surprisingly, Jesus does not do what is expected, but rather He takes that occasion to show His new family, “looking around at those seated in the circle he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Mk. 3:34-35) Jesus’ words seem to be harsh since Jesus appears to exclude Mary and Jesus’ relatives from the composition of His new family. Does it mean Jesus disrespect Mary, His parent? Does it mean that for Jesus, the biological and traditional family have no value?

The answer is plain no. Certainly, Jesus respects and loves His mother as He fulfills the fourth commandment of the Law, “Thou shall honor thy parents.” Jesus also upholds and teaches the sanctity of both marriage and family life (see Mat 5:31-32; Mat 19:19). The early Christians also follow Jesus’ teaching on the integrity of marriage and family life, as reflected in various letters of St. Paul and other apostles (see 1 Cor 7:1-17; Eph 6:1-5). We are sure that for Jesus, marriage and family are good, but the point of our Gospel is Jesus is calling all of us to go beyond this natural relationship. The new family of Jesus is not based on blood but rooted in following Jesus and doing the will of God. This is also the call that Jesus addresses to Mary and His relatives. Surely, Mary becomes the model of faith as she obeys the will of God in the Annunciation (Lk 2:26-38), follows Jesus even to the cross (Jn 19:25-26) and stays and prays together with the early Church (Acts 1:14). St. Augustine says about Mary in his homily, “It means more for her, an altogether greater blessing, to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been Christ’s mother.”

The family as a natural institution is good, but Jesus teaches that we need to be the good disciples of Jesus first before we become a good family member. Otherwise, the family will be exposed to evil and destruction. Corruption, nepotism, and cronyism are evil practices rooted in the natural family. Another extreme is when brothers fight, even kill, each other over inheritance as if they are not coming from the same womb. It is the will of God that we are faithful to one another, that we do justice, that we are merciful especially to the weak and poor. Without Christian values, the family will not become the source of goodness. Echoing the words of St. Augustine, it is a blessing to be part of a family, but it is an altogether a greater blessing to become Christ’s disciple.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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Body

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ [June 3, 2018] Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

“Take it; this is my body” (Mk 14:22)

last supper africaWe often take for granted that we are created as a bodily creature. Our body is integral to our humanity and created by God as something good; we receive our body as a gift. We freely receive our body from our parents, and our parents from their parents and this goes on till we discover God as the source of this gift. Because our body is a gift from God, we are called to honor our body as we honor the Giver of the gift Himself.

Since the earliest time, the Church has fought against various false teachings that undermine the integrity and sanctity of the body. Early Christians stoutly defended the goodness of the body against the Gnostic sects that condemned the body as evil, a prison to our soul, and a curse to our existence. The Order of Preachers where I belong was founded for the salvation of souls. Some of my friends complain why we only save the soul and disregard other aspects of our humanity. I remind them that the Order was originally established to counter the Albigensian sect, and one of its basic teachings is that the body is evil, that suicide is a great means to achieve final liberation. To preach and fight for the goodness and integrity of our body is essential to the Dominican preaching, as it is to the Church’s preaching.

Unfortunately, the gnostic teaching grows and takes modern forms. Sanctity of our body is ever compromised as our body is trivialized and even commoditized. Human trafficking is one of the greatest abuses of our body. Young women, mostly from a poor background, are lured into prostitution and turned to be sex objects. Young children are forced to work in inhuman conditions in many countries. Organ harvesting has become most luxurious business involving the countless amount of money. There is a price for every organ we have. In fact, there is a nasty story in the social media of a teenager who sells his kidney to buy the latest model of iPhone. For some people, another additional ‘bodies’ in the wombs are just liabilities and hindrance to self-progress and career development, and thus, it is better to abort these ‘bodies’ before they grow and become bigger problems.

In celebrating the solemnity of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, we are invited through our Gospel reading, to go back to Jesus’ Last Supper. There, Jesus freely offers His body as a gift to His disciples, “Take it, this My body.”  He then asks these disciples to share His body they have received to the future generations of disciples. Jesus receives His body as a gift, and now, in His Supper, He passes this gift so that we may have a life. This is the foundation of the Eucharist, as well as the core of the Christian sexuality.

Husband and wife join together in marriage, and they are no longer “two but one body.” As both spouses face the altar of God, they recognize that their bodies are gifts from God, and by lovingly offering to their spouse, they honor God who created them. We oppose any pre-marital and extra-marital sex because unless our body is given freely and totally in lifetime marriage commitment, we are always exposed to objectify our body. A husband’s or wife’s body is not simply the “property” or object to satisfy sexual, psychological needs, but it is a gift from God that even leads us to a deeper appreciation of our own body. In marriage, husband and wife give their body as a gift to each other in love and honor, so that they may have life more abundantly and in fact, they may welcome a new body, a new life, a new gift, into their marriage.

Married life is one among several ways we may accept and offer our body as a gift. Even a celibate life dedicated to service of others is another way to offer our body as a gift. Like Jesus in the Last Supper, it is only by receiving our body as a gift and freely sharing it as a gift that we may have meaningful lives.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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Trinity and Us

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity [May 27, 2018] Matthew 28:16-20

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, (Matt. 28:19)”

big bang
photo by Harry Setianto, SJ

This Mystery of Trinity is rightly called the mystery of all the mysteries because the Holy Trinity is at the core of our Christian faith. Yet, the fundamental truth we believe is not only extremely difficult to understand, but in fact, it goes beyond our natural reasoning. How is it possible that we believe in three distinct Divine Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and yet they remain One God? Some of the greatest minds like St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI have attempted to shed a little light on the mystery. However, in the face of such immense truth, the best explanations would seem like a drop of water in the vast ocean.

 

I have no illusion that I could explain the mystery better than the brightest minds of the Church, but we may reflect on its meaning in our ordinary lives. The joyful Easter season ended with the celebration of the Pentecost Sunday last week, and we resume the liturgical season of the year or simply known as the ordinary season. As we begin once again the ordinary season, the Church invites us to celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity or the Trinity Sunday. The Church seems to tell us that the unfathomable mystery of Trinity is in fact intimately closed to our day-to-day living, to our daily struggles and triumphs, to our everyday pains and joys. How is our faith in the greatest mystery of all connected to our ordinary and mundane lives?

We often have false images of God. We used to think that God or Trinity is the greatest person (or three persons) among things that exist He is like a universal CEO that manages things from an undisclosed location or a super big and powerful being that controls practically everything. Yet, this is not quite right. He is not just one among countless beings. God is the ground of our existence. He is the very reason why anything exists rather than nothing. Thus, the act of creation is not what happened at the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. It is fundamentally God’s gift of existence to us. To be created means that we do not necessarily exist. Every single moment of our life is God’s gratuitous gift.

The Scriptures reveals the mystery of our God. He is not solitary and self-absorbed God, but our God is one God in three divine persons. Our God is a community founded on creative mutual love and constant self-giving. Therefore, our creation is not a mere accident, but God’s creative act and His gift of love. We exist in the world because God cannot but love us and wants us to share in the perfect life of the Trinity. St. Thomas Aquinas rightly says that we only believe two fundamental teachings, two credibilia : first, God exists, and second, we are loved in Jesus Christ.

We often take for granted our lives and immerse in daily concern of life; we rarely ask what the purpose of this life is. Yet, it does not diminish the truth that God lovingly sustains our existence and cares for us, even to the tiniest fraction of our atom. Whether we are busy doing our works, focus on our family affairs, or simply enjoying our hobbies, God is intimately involved. Thus, apart from God, our lives, our daily toils, and concerns, our sorrows and joys are meaningless and even revert to nothingness. Celebrating the Trinity Sunday means to rejoice in our existence as a gift, and to glorify God who is immensely loving and caring for us.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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The Holy Spirit of Pentecost

Pentecost Sunday [May 20, 2018] Jn 20:19-23

“We hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God (Acts 2:11)”

small candle
picture by Harry Setianto SJ

Just a week ago, three churches in Surabaya, Indonesia were attacked by suicide bombers.  Fear immediately seized me knowing the bombing sites were not far from our Dominican community. Some of my good friends were from Surabaya, and they might have been harmed by the senseless explosions. I was somehow able to breathe upon knowing that they were safe, but part of my heart remained deeply hurt because many people, Christians and Moslems, police officers, ordinary citizen, and even children, died and were wounded. These were people with their hopes and dreams, their stories and faith, with family and friends. Yet, the brutal attacks instantly destroyed all. As we are now celebrating the Pentecost, we may ask ourselves: What does it mean to celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a world chocked by fear and violence? How do we call ourselves the hopeful Pentecost People in the midst of persecution and death?

 

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit does appear in the form of the tongues of fire and rests on each apostle and disciple. They are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak different languages and to proclaim the mighty acts of God to people coming from many nations. From the story, we discover that people from different languages and nations are able to understand, and begin to be one community as they listen to the mighty acts of God. Thus, the mission of the Holy Spirit is to become the principle of connection and unity among people separated by many walls and divisions.

We are coming from different languages, culture, and nations, having diverse upbringings, characters, and value system. We possess different convictions, beliefs, and faith. It is the work of the devil to sow the seed of fear and lies, and with so much fear and misconceptions of the others, it is easier to build higher fences and dig deeper trenches. These are the roots of fundamentalism and radicalism that kills rather than heals.

The Holy Spirit pushes us to go out from ourselves and reach to the others. If we are created in the image of the Holy Trinity, and if the Trinity is three unique divine persons living in the unity of love, we are designed to be unique individuals and yet we are also made as a person with others and for others. The Holy Spirit is like a mother eagle that when the right time comes, will throw its young brood from the cliff and let them learn how to fly gracefully like a mature eagles.

Hours after the bombing, people also flooded the hospitals where the terror victims were treated and offered themselves to be blood donors for the victims. One remarks that blood knows no ethnicity, religion or nation; it only knows type O, A, B or AB! The Holy Spirit works against the work of the devil, the father of lies. Thus, the Holy Spirit empowers us to proclaim the truth and the mighty acts of God. Minutes after the bombing, the social media was flooded by a graphic picture of people killed as to spread fear, but then the Indonesian netizens refused to share further the fear and began to place in their social media accounts hashtag #wearenotafraid.

The heroic stories also emerge. There is Aloysius Bayu, a parish volunteer, who died in the explosion. Had he not stopped the terrorists who tried to enter the church premises, countless people could have died that day. His death does not only end his life but also scatters the life of a woman who expects his husband to come home and a little baby who needs her father. Yet, it is not without hope. It succumbs to fear or anger, Bayu’s friends see his death as a sacrifice that leads to a new hope. One of his friends remarks, “We must not stop going to the Church because of fear. If we stop, Bayu would have died for nothing.” The Holy Spirit does not blind us to the harsh and ugly world we have, but the Holy Spirit empowers us to be brave and work for better future of this world.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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Ascension and Mission

The Ascension of the Lord [May 13, 2018] Mark 16:15-20

“Jesus said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mk. 16:15)

father and daughter at beach 2We normally do not want to part away from the people we love. The emotional bond that has grown makes it difficult and painful for us to be away from the persons whom we love. Parents do not want to be separated from their children. Couple hates when they have to be far from each other. Friends cry when they have to go separate ways.

However, Jesus does the opposite when He is ascending into heaven. The resurrected Jesus could have stayed, done more miracles and accompanied the disciples. His permanent physical presence could boost the disciples’ morale, give them comfort and protection. Yet, He chooses to go and leave His disciples on earth. Why does Jesus do that cruel thing?

When we read today’s Gospel closely, Jesus does not simply leave behind His disciples, but He sends them for the mission, “Go to the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” (Mrk 16:15) In fact, the Ascension is more about sending rather than departing. He goes up so that the disciples may go forward. Jesus understands that to stay put means to infantilize the disciples and hinder the disciples to become the men they are meant to be. As they go, they grow to be the persons whom they never expect before. They have faith even more, and to gradually grow in hope and charity. Had Peter stayed behind, he would not have become a leader of the great Church. Had John gone home, he would not have become the elder of the Church in Ephesus and written the Fourth Gospel.

The story of faith begins with a mission. God called Abraham, asked him to go from in his land of Ur, and made his way to Canaan. He became the Father of great nations not in his homeland, his comfort, and his safe zone, but in the dangerous and unknown land. God called Moses and Israelites to go out from the land of Egypt, from the land that gave them cucumber, onion, and garlic. They became people free to worship their only God, not in Egypt, land of thousand gods, but in the land, God has promised them. St. Dominic de Guzman began the Order of Preachers by sending his small and fragile community into various cities. Some brothers doubted others resisted, and few objected his decision. Yet, his decision was proved to be a watershed for the Order. The mission of Order is not to be another ancient stable monastery, but a group of iterant preachers. Dominic’s faith has given birth to the Dominican family that is currently present in more than 100 countries.

I always thank my parents for allowing me to enter the seminary at the tender age of 14. I know it was a tough and painful decision, but their courage has made me a man who I am now. At first, both my parents and I were not sure what would come for me, what my particular mission in life be, but we are sure that I have been sent, from the comfort of my family into the midst of an immensely vast Church. Have we grown and become mature and courageous people? Have we allowed people we love to grow into the person they are meant to be? Have we entrusted ourselves and our loved ones into God’s mission?

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP