30 August 2009


22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The novel “The Fall” – written by the renowned Albert Camus – is the story of Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a lawyer from Paris, who, in a bar in Amsterdam, meets a nameless fellow French ex-patriot and lawyer. At first, Clamence appears to be friendly and helpful, acting as an interpreter between the French stranger and the Dutch bartender. Later on, however, he is able to maneuver the exchange between the two to focus on his own story. So helpful that he is, Clamence even volunteers to walk the stranger to his hotel rather than simply give him directions how to get there. But his motive really is to continue his monologue of self-adulation before his captive listener.

To this total stranger, the power-hungry narcissist, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, narrates the story of his own unprincipled life and ideas, explaining his approval of slavery, his cynical opinion on human relationships, and his religious unbelief. He describes himself as a defense attorney in Paris, specializing in particularly desperate cases such as those of notorious murderers and of the marginalized in society. What he conceals, however, is his real reason for taking those cases. Far from a sense of benevolence, the motive behind his being a defense attorney for particularly desperate cases is to acquire fame for himself. Indeed, his ego knows no bounds and his need for self-adoration is all-consuming. Deep within his façade is a self-righteous lunatic.

One evening, however, Clamence witnesses a young woman throwing herself from a bridge to her death. This is his turning point. Paralyzed by fear, he fails to save the woman no matter how much he wants to. As the woman falls into the river below, the truth about his own weakness also dawns upon Clamence. This incident now becomes the most significant human experience that dominates the rest of his story as he experiences another very disturbing “bridge episode”.

On another night, as he crosses another bridge, Clamence hears laughter behind him. But he sees no one. The truth is, as he realizes later on, the laughter comes from deep within him. The laughter is an echo of his own mind! His own mind is laughing at him, at how ridiculous he is. At first, he fights this realization with all his erudition, but the laughter sounds louder all the more. Finally, the laugh wins out as Clamence’s story closes with Clamence’s confession that despite everything he thinks he has gained he still hears the laughter now and again.

Funny. But can we not hear the same laughter, too? Yes, we can as the Pharisees and scribes in the gospel today reminds us of the story of Jean-Baptiste Clamence. Like Clamence, the Pharisees and the scribes are experts of the Law. Not only experts are they, they even boast about their strict observance of even the minutest legal requirement. No doubt, they are not only knowledgeable; they are also law-abiding par excellence. But Jesus reprimands them today. Hypocrisy and self-righteousness are their crimes. Hypocrisy is basically lying about one’s self and self-righteousness is even boasting about the same lie. Thus, Jesus uses the words of the Prophet Isaiah in lambasting the Pharisees and the scribes today, revealing their true color: “These people pay Me lip service; but their hearts are far from Me.”

With the second reading today, from the letter of the Apostle James, the verdict on the Pharisees and the scribes in the gospel today is ratified: Guilty as charged. They listen to the word of God, but do not act on it. Whom do they deceive but themselves alone indeed, believing in their own created self-image that speaks of anything but an iota of truth.

You and I also cross the bridge where we encounter the living word of God, an encounter whose veracity is best proven by our humble and sincere obedience to God’s holy will. If all we do is listen to God but not act on what we have listened to, we are not any degree better than the Pharisees and the scribes in the gospel today. And it will truly do us better if, as we cross the bridge, we also hear laughter coming from nowhere but deep within laughing at how ridiculous we are with our own hypocrisies and self-righteousness.

We, therefore, pray that we recognize the opportunities to help those with whom we cross paths in our own bridges in life, and that our help may always be humbly and sincerely extended. May we be able to honestly respond to the call of Christian witnessing right when our response is needed loud and clear, but without any shade of triumphalism. As we cross our own bridges, may we not play blind or deaf to the needs of our fellow travelers in life, but may we first truly see and hear before we show and speak on their behalf. And as regards our own struggle to be holy, may we never boast of any spiritual maturity we have already gained. May we not display our piety in glass windows for people to see but use our holiness in giving concrete and timely human compassion and care for people to live. By our authentic, humble, and life-giving love, let others experience our holiness even before they see it, even without they seeing it, and even they not wanting to see it. For holiness is best done rather than shown. Holiness is the perfection of charity.

Funny, but we can indeed hear the same laughter that Jean-Baptiste Clamence of Camus’ novel hears – a laughter that comes from nowhere but deep within. It must be coming from our minds, too!

May Jesus throw us down into the river below the bridge we cross, even when we refuse to do so, and wash the dirt that all our half-truths and no-truths reduced our true self into mere pretense. But may the laughter of our own mind not cease so that we may never forget how ridiculous we do become when we insist in believing the illusions we create for our selves by our own hypocrisies and self-righteousness.
Ha! Ha! Ha!

Can’t you hear it?


At 11:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its very interesting and enriching. Thank you Father Bobby. We really like you because you're so concerned with us. I can't remember any Priest assigned at San Jose Manggagawa visiting and checking the condition of the sick people and even praying with them, walking with us during procession and many more even though you're not feeling well. Marami pong salamat, sana po hindi ninyo iiwan ang San Jose Manggagawa. I know may naninira noon saiyo but we don't believe in you. God Bless you always father....

At 11:22 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just want to correct what i previously wrote Its a mistake on the last sentence. It must be "we always believe in you" You're really great...again sorry po....nagkamali lang po ang daliri ko.

At 11:33 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

We agree with the you "Anonymous" Father Bobby is really a Gift from God sending him to us. Its really a priveledged to have you at San Jose Manggagawa Parish. We hope everybody can find time reading the Spiritual Reflection of Father Bobby...its really enriching


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