November 27, 2001

Giving everything (Luke 21:1-4)

There is a joke about three men of the cloth of different congregations who found themselves comparing how they are able to discern what and how much to give to God and how much to retain for their church from their collection plates. One said, I draw a line in the sand and toss the contents in the air, those that land on the right go to God, those that land on the left go to my church. The second said, I have a similar system, I draw a circle in the sand and toss the contents in the air, those that land inside the circle, I give to God, those that land outside is for my church. The third (rumored to be a Jesuit), said, I have a similar system, I toss the contents in the air, whatever God manages to catch He can keep, anything that he doesn't catch goes to my church.

The joke is enough for a momentary laugh or even a wry smile. But it is apt for the gospel for today. Luke 21:1-4 is a familar gospel--about the poor widow who gave everything she had. In it, Jesus impliedly rebuked those who have more in life for giving only that which they can spare but extolled the poor widow who gave all that she had to live on--two copper coins.

In our lives, very frequently, we are asked to decide what and how much to give to God from OUR lives. In a typical day, we wrestle with how much time and what portion of our lives we are to give to God. Multiply those days into hours and years, and we find ourselves asking the same question: how much time and what portion of our lives we are to give to God.Thus, being frail, weak and human, we bargain with God very frequently. We allot prayer time--the start of the day and perhaps the end of the day. We set aside time for Mass (Sundays and the occasional First Friday or Holidays of Obligation). We decide to go on retreats and recollections. All our lives, it is a conscious effort of budgetting time for God--giving from OUR time WHAT WE CAN SPARE. Similar to the third priest in the joke, whatever God can catch of us, He keeps.But lets look at the situation more closely now. Who's fooling whom? By not giving God OUR (?) time, who loses. God? I don't think so.

Every moment that we do not give to God is a moment that He fails to touch us, direct us, disturb us. And it is in His touch, direction and disturbance that God showers us with His blessings. During those times when our hearts are cold and hard and our eyes are singlemindedly intent on our human passions and goals, God finds it difficult to touch us, direct us and disturb us--for there is already so much there in our hearts that He loses His place.

Every moment that we do not give to God is a moment that we deny ourselves the gift of Him. God waits, patiently, for us; He has waited for ALL time--from the moment of creation, He already knew our name in His divine plan. Yet, He waits for us to realize that He waits for us. During those times when we are so intent with doing what we think is His will on Earth, He finds it difficult to sit and wait for us--but still He does.

Our God is not a God who demands of us OUR time--even if He has every right to do so. Our God is not one who asks us to give to Him each and every waking hour of the day--even if He could very well do so. Our God is a God of free will--He allows us to choose our own lives and to give to Him that which we are pleased to; not making demands, not even requests.

He is a God who loves us unconditionally, to a fault, to the extent of denying us the gift of Himself. A truly radical God--one who denies Himself perhaps His greatest pleasure, our lives and our hearts. But unlike the poor widow, very frequently, our lives are a testament to giving only what we can spare, what we are comfortable with, what we have at the moment. Like the third priest in the joke, whatever God can catch of our lives, that's all he gets to keep. BUT IF WE ARE SO UNWILLING TO SACRIFICE THE BEST OF OURSELVES, THEN GOD ONLY GETS TO KEEP THE WORST IN US. When we refuse to give the BEST of our efforts at worktime, at praytime and at playtime, then we DENY God all the BEST in us. When we parcel out to God our time and efforts and allocate "this is for God, this is for me", we find ourselves giving only those that we are comfortable with and very frequently, these would be those that we do not hold dear. When we cannot say "this ENTIRE DAY is for the Lord" then we are not giving to Him all that we are and all that we have to live on but only that which we are comfortable with.

I find myself very frequently in this situation--of being able to give only after counting the cost. Yet, that is not what God wants of me, I know. But it is so very difficult--my human frailty and weakness very frequently prevents me from ceding control. What if it is too hard? What if I get embarrassed? What if I can't do it? What if I fall flat on my face? What if . . .?The gospel of the poor widow who gave her all is the answer to all my "what ifs" She gave literally all that she had to live on--two copper coins--without reservations, conditions, hesitation. She never said, "nakakahiya naman, ito lang" (its embarrassing, its a pittance) or asked "paano na ako mamaya kakain (how will i buy food later)?" She just simply LET GOD BE HER ALL.

As we wait for the coming of the Lord on Christmas Day, it is an opportune time for us to reflect on how much we have given to the Lord of ourselves. Have we truly allowed Him to take us by the hand and lead us where He wants us to go? During those times that God disturbs us by dismantling our orderly and ordered lives into a mess that we are unable to recognize, have we truly given Him the power to take this mess and bless it? Are our hearts truly open to the possibility that God may already have plans for us that we haven't even thought of?Brothers and sisters, as we wait for the Lord, let us wait with hearts that are not only open and welcoming but also expectant--borne out of the realization that we are willing to let Him take over our lives, our hearts, our souls and everything we are. Like the poor widow in Luke 21, may we learn always to give ALL that we are and all that we have to live on and not only all that we can spare or are comfortable with.

November 22, 2001

The gift of waiting (a pre-advent reflection)

In this very fast-paced life we all live, waiting is a luxury and, to most, a necessary but unwanted evil. Most of us, I in particular, do not like to wait nor to be kept waiting. Understandably, because all of us are preoccupied with our own concerns--concerns that take time and demand from us undivided attention--and waiting disrupts the order and system that we, invariably, must develop so that we may address these concerns. Yet, we wait everyday of our lives--even if we don't like it.

We waited, as children, to grow up, to study, to go to college, to finish a degree, to work, to become professionals, to be successful. We wait in line for meals, for rides, for tickets to a show or a movie, for a friend to call or show up; we wait in line to receive God's body and blood at communion; we wait at airports or seaports to send off loved ones or to welcome them home. We wait for birthdays and vacations and weekends. We wait for the right one to come along.

We cannot remove all the waiting in our lives. It is part of who we are; it is integrally woven into the tapestry of living, the "fabric in which the threads are woven that tell the story of our lives."But to a lot of us, waiting is unnatural. It conflicts with the all-too human passion and zest for life. Especially in this day and age when communication is faster than sound--text messages get across greater distances faster than the sound of the spoken word--life has become faster and time all the more important.

Michael Jordan's Nike ads tell us to "just do it"; don't wait. That much-maligned movie "The Dead Poet's Society" gave us the unforgettable mantra--to some, a life motto--"carpe diem" (seize the day); do not wait, do it now. In other more pedestrian fashions, the pre-occupation is with doing things now--life is short; eat, drink, party for tomorrow you may die. Fr. Bernas loves to paraphrase an unnamed Saint who supposedly asked God to "give me patience. . . . but please give it to me right now."

All this insistence on not waiting, on doing things faster or doing things now and not tomorrow creates in us unwanted character traits that are, initially, imperceptible but which, eventually, surface. The preoccupation with "just do it" and "carpe diem", taken the wrong way, becomes license for unbridled and irresponsible freedom and action--premarital sex and extra-marital affairs, lack of commitment and absence of perserverance in commitments; they create an overriding sense of cynicism and distrust and forces us to rely on ourselves more and more. The rush to "just do it" and the "carpe diem" mentality creates in us a refusal to trust vows and promises, renders us cynical of duty and responsibility, fosters distrust of any anchors that we may drop in the currents and tides of our life that will force us to stop. . . and wait.

For me, the refusal to wait makes me unable to love and love fully. Waiting means waiting for someone else. It means giving up something that is precious to me in this day and age, my time, for someone else; resisting the all-too human urge to do it myself. And for me, it is the first sign of love.Anyone who has ever loved knows how it is to wait. Anyone who has ever loved knows how much waiting goes into loving, how much waiting is important for love to grow, to flourish, to thrive.

I do not know why love requires so much waiting. It is a mystery to me also. Why must I wait for my loved one? We might as well ask why it takes so long for a seed to become a tree or for coal to become a diamond.

All I do know is that a love that is instantly accessible and immediately gratifying is a love that is, ultimately shallow, puerile, doubtful and fleeting. All I do know is that a love that is subject of patient and expectant waiting is a love that has grown and will continue to grow. For it is a love that takes root in the the nourishment of experience, of shared mysteries, of secret and not-so secret joys, of companionship, of honesty, sincerity, candor and trust. As a seed takes time to become a tree, so too does love take time to grow, flourish and thrive.

That is why waiting is the start of loving.

If we truly love the other, then we must gift that person with the gift of waiting. It is a most difficult thing to do but it is also the truest test of the depth and sincerity of our love for each other.

So, as we approach Advent and ultimately Christmas. . . we wait for OUR Loved One, our Lord Jesus Christ, the radical God of our lives. We wait twelve months, 52 weeks, 365 days to celebrate one Holy day--the day the King of our lives is born. We wait for Him because we love Him. We wait for Him because we know He is the ONE, the ONLY ONE for us. We wait because we want to give to Him the gift of our time expended into our lives--lives that we hope will be pleasing to His eyes. We wait for Him because we recognize that He has to, first, take root in our hearts, in our lives, in all that we are before He comes; otherwise, His coming will be as un-extraordinary as the measures of instant gratification we take everyday of our lives. We wait for Him because, after all, He has waited for us for ALL time.

[Lord, I pray, as I wait for you to come, that my life shall be the fruitful product of a loving and productive waiting; I offer to you my gift of time as I await your coming--and I spend that time, as I wait, in fashioning my life and my heart to create a life and a son that is pleasing to you.]