Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Holy Prodder

Our Staff Meetings here in my parish would begin by a short prayer followed by a time for sharing. Most of those sharing are spin-offs of the theme of the diocesan program called Grateful, Glad and Giving. At our last Staff Meeting this past Thursday morning, I invited those in attendance to share about their “abilities”. As it had been the case before, there was again an honest sharing, as each began to “open their window” and let others take a peek of their least and their best ability.

Confidentiality is strictly observed, of course, unless one makes his or her own individual sharing public. Should an individual decide to make that option, he or she will be at liberty to do just that, provided whatever shared by others are not compromised. Today, I will exercise that option.

What I’m not good at and what I have difficulty with is my ability to sustain something that I have started. I know, it’s a bit awkward to admit this in public, especially since there is no need to make such possibly demeaning confession. But then I’m sure that there are others out there who are equally burdened by the same “ability” I consider not my best. Realizing that, it is then comforting to know how prevalent the need for some “prodding” is, one which could sustain that which has been started but somehow in danger of being left on the wayside.

“Prodding”, as you already know, simply means “to rouse or incite as if by poking; or to nag or to goad”. I think I know why some of the ladies are now smiling. Prodding seems to be in their turf.

Pushing this imagery a little bit more leads me to imagine that the “prodder”, meaning the one who “prods”, is that entity or that “persona” whose task is to make sure that the individual he or she is supposed to “prod” continues to do that which he or she has started. It means also that the “prodder” is the one who enables someone’s inability to sustain get transformed into the ability to carry on and bring to fruition all the potential of that which has been initiated.

I’d like to imagine that there is that “Holy Prodder” who was once promised to the disciples and continues to be offered to all those who follow Christ Jesus. This “Holy Prodder” that I’m referring to is none other than the “Holy Spirit”, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity who every so often prods or pokes and even nags us to move on and fulfill all those which we, at our baptism, said we would do but might now have been laid in the wayside.

While the Holy Spirit being referred to as the “Holy Prodder” may be a bit distasteful for others, I was hoping that my use of the term could bring a bit of contemporariness into what could have been a strange verbiage such as when the Holy Spirit is referred to as “The Paraclete”.  The what? Some of you might wonder. See, what I mean? It’s the “Holy Prodder” the Holy Spirit and our Gospel for this Sixth Sunday of Easter talks a bit along that line.

“Jesus said to his disciples, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (NRSV John 14:15-16)

Listening to that portion of the Gospel for today reminds us of Jesus promising his disciples the sending of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit or as in my version, the “Holy Prodder”, who will be with them forever and therefore, in effect, also with us, who have decided to follow Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus was the one who “prodded” them to be closer to God. Jesus did this through his teachings about God’s unconditional love and of God’s mercy and forgiveness through his healing miracles. But now that Jesus approaches his death; now that he is in the verge of his departing time and especially now that the disciples will be on their own without him, that task is to be handed over to the Holy Spirit.

The primary task, then, of the Holy Spirit, is to remind, not only those disciples of old but also us, who are now part of the Body of Christ, of the Good News of Salvation, of God’s Unconditional Love and to “prod” us about all of God’s commandments lest we take them so casually.

As in the intent of plain “prodding” wherein we are “poked” or “goaded” in order to move on, so are we being reached out by the Holy Spirit, the “Holy Prodder” who now abides in us.  This “Holy Prodder” is to be our constant companion in good times and bad; in situations when we offer praise and thanksgiving for the blessings received and also in times when convenience supplants the noble desire of fulfilling our duties which should be reflective of the sincerity of our claim as Christians.

It may surprise us to think of the Holy Spirit in this way, as someone who helps us convert our “least ability” into what might be the “best ability” we could ever have; that is, the ability to be obedient and loving children of God.  

Quite often, the Holy Spirit is advertised in more fancy terms. For example, that the Holy Spirit gives ecstasy or that the Holy Spirit evokes speaking in unknown tongues or that the Holy Spirit prompts dramatic and miraculous healings.

I’m not saying that these are not good descriptions of what the Holy Spirit does. Indeed, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, does perform such deeds, but then, these are only reflections of the one, primary activity of the Spirit which is to “prod” God’s children about not forgetting everything that Jesus taught and commanded.

Lest I forget that today is in fact a National Holiday, let me attempt to relate to it the theme of “prodding”.  Living in this beloved country of ours means enjoying the benefits of freedom and liberty which those in the Armed Forces and other related agencies have secured with their lives; their greatest sacrifice. We celebrate “Memorial Day Weekend”, an opportunity to pay homage to those who have perished during times of conflict.

That ought to be what should loom in the consciousness of this country and her people. Sad to say, that seems to be going to the way side. Asked what the significance of the weekend is, many would say it’s nothing but a long weekend, a holiday. Thankfully, there are those who are forthright in sharing their admiration for those who fought for their country and have died. There are also those who continue to admire and congratulate our veterans who have survived the rigors of war.

But for the many who may have forgotten its primary function of lifting up courage and patriotism, perhaps some “prodding” might not be a bad idea. In fact, I think just as we have a “Holy Prodder” who ensures our transformation in living out that which we believe, and enabling us to move on as living witnesses of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness, so should there be a “prodding” for those of us living here in the United States of America to never forget the great sacrifice this nation’s heroes have done, that we may live in peace and safe from foreign oppression.

Our celebration of “Memorial Day” could very well be that “prodding” we so badly need. I hope that this celebration may become for us an occasion to remember not just the triumphs and victories we have achieved thus far but, more importantly, as a time to re-establish our connections with those who have pursued the lofty dreams of our Founding Fathers in establishing a republic, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

It is also my hope that we continue to ponder on that other “prodding” which we, as citizens of the Church Militant, also badly need, in order to foster a world framed in justice and peace.  

The Holy Spirit, the “Holy Prodder” was promised to us; has come and will be with us for ever. Let us allow the same Spirit to work in us through his or her “prodding” so that you and I may flourish even more as creatures formed in God’s image.

You see, some prodding could be of divine nature.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

On our becoming the perfect ashlar…

For us who inhabit modern places of abode and who labor in contemporary edifices, buildings made of stones seem to be no longer a common sight. What we have become familiar with are structures fortified by cement, steel, hard plastics, strong rubber and even glass. Stones, as natural source of strength, have been replaced by a combination of other elements proven to be less cumbersome; materials that are more easily available and exceed building code requirements.

While buildings made of stones may now be a rare sight, nonetheless, they are still around in other places; in ruins of ancient structures, for example. Stones are also very much an essential components of structures like cathedrals and palaces but the more common picture of the contemporary usefulness of stones for the purpose of architecture and the erection of superstructures is now undoubtedly coming to an end. They’re almost non-existent.

But then, again, maybe not. Buildings made of stones are still a common sight in the Middle East. Everywhere you go, from the hot banks of the Dead Sea to the summits of holy mountains, stones are everywhere. From the ruins of Jericho to the walls of Jerusalem, stones still abound. People who had been to the Holy Land are so privileged in that they are able to see centuries of history as they view ruins of edifices made of stones.

Having said this, I’d like to draw your attention to the Second Reading appointed for the Fifth Sunday of Easter; taken from the First Letter of Peter, as this lesson contains the imagery of stones, especially of “living stones” which both apply to the very cornerstone upon which our spiritual edifice is built and of the very purpose of our connectedness with God in and through Christ Jesus.

In that cited passage of Holy Scriptures, Peter says: "Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ," (RSV 1 Peter 2:4-5). 

Just as Peter summoned his listeners then so does he now tell us to look to that “Living Stone” and in the very act of doing it, be ourselves transformed into “living stones”, fit to become the finest material needed by the Great Architect in building not only that celestial lodge, that spiritual building, not made by hands, eternal in the heavens but also as the finest materials that faith communities or the whole people of God are ought to be made of.

To better appreciate the process of transitioning into living stone, I propose that we familiarize ourselves with a few basic things in operative masonry.

Stones are generally hewn from quarries and in their crude form are referred to as “rough ashlars”. They are called rough since they contain a good number of superfluous characters and so to make them fit for the builders’ use, the superfluous parts are removed by means of an instrument called a common gavel.

Once the unwanted parts are removed, they’re then called “perfect ashlars” and are now fit for use in the erection of an edifice. One of these refined ashlars is then chosen to be the first stone, usually laid in the northeast corner and is considered as the cornerstone. After this cornerstone has been laid down, the rest of the ashlars are laid out, stone after stone, and ultimately, patterned after the design drawn in the builder’s Trestleboard, a stately edifice is erected, standing strong and intended to endure the rigors of nature.

This process in operative masonry was so common in olden days and authors of some books of the Holy Scriptures used this imagery of stone building to reflect the relationship and connectivity which God has intended for His creation.

The Apostle Peter, very much aware that his intended listeners were already familiar with how magnificent edifices are built, used this imagery as well and thus summoned them to regard the importance of Christ Jesus in their lives, in a manner they can relate to.  He implored his listeners to look into Christ Jesus as that “living stone”, the very cornerstone of the spiritual edifice that God the Father desired to have. Peter also invited his readers to be like “living stones” as well, and as such, be built into the spiritual building, be a holy priesthood and lastly to be able to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.

To turn from being rough ashlars into becoming perfect ones, fit for the builders’ use, is both a privilege and a responsibility. We are so privileged to become “living stones” by the grace and mercy of God Almighty, the Great Artificer of the Universe.  It is also through God’s grace that we become “living stones and cornerstones” whose responsibility is to assure the strength and integrity of a God-fearing community; that it will be a sure foundation able to withstand the rigors of delusional concepts.

Being living stones means being alive in Christ. It’s about discipleship, following Christ's declaration that his followers will be his "witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). It means living with the confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in the hearts and minds of all who call upon the Lord.

It also means being missional, always in mission with God and being a witness of God's good news for all people. We are called to be witnesses to all people. We are called into this holistic mission and to witness not just about a narrowly defined talk of Christ or just about the Church. It is about living the reality of Christ's presence with one another and with the world. The world cries out with so many demands: demands for justice and peace; for food and shelter; for healing and comfort.  In the face of such overwhelming challenges, we often are silenced by a tragic sense of helplessness or even apathy. We are silenced by those who want to muzzle God’s message of hope and liberation and transformation, proclaimed through the church.

Becoming living stones means, therefore, that we don’t succumb to those pressures; that we withstand that temptation by the strength of the Holy Spirit that empowers us amidst all these trials. We pray that our witness can always reflect this holiness lest we cease to become the living stones that God hopes us to be.

And so, as we continue to celebrate the season of Easter, always rejoicing with the entire faith communities the mystery of Resurrection, let us also continue in beseeching God to afford us the privilege of becoming living stones, fit for the use of that Great Artificer of the Universe. Let us allow God to cleanse and rid us of our superfluous characters and let us supplicate the Holy Spirit to empower us in the pursuit of that which is holy and that which is just and merciful.

It will always be a challenge to get engaged in this transition but as any mason will tell you, the perfect ashlar stands out among others. Would you not rather be one?