01 March 2009

SEEING ANGELS IN THE MIDST OF WILD BEASTS

1st Sunday of Lent
Mk 1:12-15

We hear, see, and feel that indeed we are in the midst of a real global economic recession. Sometimes, when faced with the threat of popular upheaval due to national financial crisis, some politicians resort to tactics that aim to divert the people’s attention from the real issue. Such is an old ploy.

In the year 64 A.D., Rome was on the verge of economic turmoil. The emperor that time was Nero. To divert the people’s attention from the real issue, Nero burnt the city. The fire lasted for a week while Nero, from the terrace of his imperial palace, watched Rome burn as he fiddled his violin. When the fire was put out, half of the city was already reduced to ashes.

To cover up what he did, Nero created a fact-finding commission composed of his cronies. The commission was tasked to find who the arsonists were. But the result of the findings was already decided upon even before the commissioners began the investigation. They agreed on an easy scapegoat: the arsonists were the Christians.

Nero experienced no difficulty at all in winning the sympathy of pagan Romans against the Christian minority. Even prior to the catastrophic fire in the imperial city, the pagan majority was already suspicious of Christian population that was regarded that time as a merely small but steadily growing sect. Moreover, the pagans were already blaming the Christians for the misfortunes that struck the city even before it went up in smoke, for Christians refused to worship the gods and goddesses of the Romans. What made the situation even worse for Christians was their strong denial of the divinity of the Roman emperor. For Christians, there was only one God and Jesus was His only begotten Son, not the emperor. Rumors also circulated saying Christians would secretly gather to eat flesh and drink blood. They called it “Breaking of Bread”, we understand it today as the “Eucharist”, but for the first century pagan Romans it was sheer cannibalism.

Countless Christians were arrested, deprived of their rights, humiliated in public, tortured, and killed. Because those who reported Christians to authorities were even rewarded handsomely, betrayal knew neither blood nor friendship. Many of those who were arrested were fed to wild beasts. Some were burnt at stake. Others were either beheaded or crucified. And still countless others were stoned to death, roasted like a lechon (roasted pig), skinned alive, or simply pierced through the heart. Not only the numbers of those who were killed, but also the invention of new instruments for execution was truly horrifying. While many apostasized, still more remained strong in their resolve to die rather than deny the Christian Faith. Indeed, Nero was able to divert the people’s attention from the threat of a collapsing economy, but innocent Christians paid the costly price for such a diversion that later became a much-welcomed national pastime for pagan Rome. This was the beginning of the long history of widespread persecution of Christians. Starting with Emperor Nero in 64 A.D., it stopped only with Emperor Constantine in the fourth century when Christianity, ironically, became the religion of the empire.

But the fourth century was too far from the year 64 A.D., besides no one knew how long it would last after it started, and the fear of horrible death was real then as it is today, thus Mark wrote his gospel to encourage and strengthen his persecuted Christian brethren in Rome. It is therefore not at all surprising that Mark opens his story of Jesus in the desert.

As it is now so was it before, the desert was home to wild beasts. Remember that another word for desert is “wilderness”. It was like the Roman arena or coliseum where Christians were thrown to salivating beasts. But as Mark begins his gospel, we do not see the early Christians in the wilderness but Christ Himself. Jesus is in the desert, fasting, tempted by Satan, and surrounded by wild beasts even as angels minister to Him. And like the persecuted Christians, Jesus is innocent of any crime, including sin.

Indeed innocence is not always a protection against sufferings and temptations, against injustice, and even against death. Instead, experience teaches us that sometimes it is the righteous who suffer even as the wicked prosper.

Before the widespread persecution of Christians, Jesus was the first to have been persecuted. Before His faithful disciples were thrown and fed to the wild beasts, Jesus was already with the beasts in the wilderness. Before the innocent was killed by the guilty, the guilty already slaughtered the Innocent One: Jesus the Christ. Did Jesus not say (Cf. Jn 15:18 and 20), “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me first. If they persecute Me, they will persecute you too. No servant is greater than his master?”

We begin Lent in the wilderness. The wild beasts that surround us in the desert heighten our sense of vulnerability. The Apostle Peter warns us in his first epistle: “Be alert, be on watch, for your enemy, the devil, is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Pt 5:8). Fear, indeed, is a factor. But more so is Jesus Christ. He is with us in the wilderness.

While we do need to go through our own wilderness every now and then, we do not need to go through it alone. We may be unwillingly thrown into the wilderness of life or unwittingly lost our way and just find our selves there. But, certainly, no one prohibits us from going through our wilderness without Christ Jesus. He was there first. He was already there even before we arrived.

For our Lenten observance, our parish takes the theme Kuwaresma 2009…Salamin ng Buhay Ko (“Lent 2009…Mirror of My Life”). Through the forty days of Lent, let us take a look at the mirror of our life every now and then. Let us look at it more intently. And let the light that helps us see our reflection on the mirror be the light of Christ only. Let the light be Christ Himself, for He alone makes us see angels even in the midst of wild beasts.

3 Comments:

At 12:34 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Lord Jesus, in the midst of the devastating global crisis that resulted to severe poverty,hardships, austerity, slow business activities, there are a lot of abuse, anywhere and everywhere without any consideration at all to whatever the result maybe. Remind us Lord, that You are God,if only people will only acknowledge those big mistakes, learn from it, stand up and start to live a life that is simple and in frugal ways to avoid a repeat.

It is only You Lord Jesus, who can do all things, because You know all things. You can do beyond human strength. Help people realize that sky is not the limit and values in living should be preserved all the time.

Shelter us O Lord, so that the effect will not be as hard to us. Continue to supply us with Your grace always as we come to You. We trust in Your Heart Lord Jesus. Amen. - rory

 
At 11:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

March 8,2009

Hello Father!

Happy 42nd Birthday!

Father,you are really a singing priest.Why not stage another concert?Have you seen the singing priests from Cebu,they were featured in Jessica Soho's show. Why not? Their concerts benefited the archdiocese, they built churches and have brought the youth closer to God.Think , this will help your project of renovating the parish church you're in today.

God bless you Father, you are always in our prayers.

 
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