John 12:20-33 – The Coming of Jesus’ Hour
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Sunday Gospel Reflection
Paradox, literally speaking, is a form of speech that contains a “seeming contradiction.” It has been said that “Life is a paradox.” There are many things in life which seemed to be a sort of contradiction but in truth and in reality they are not. The same also with our Christian life.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gave his disciples one of the most popular biblical paradox commonly referred to as the Paradox of the Grain of Wheat, when he said to his disciples, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24).
What Jesus, indeed, introduces is a divine paradox. The seed must die if it is to bear fruit. The person who strives to play it safe, in his relationship with God dies, while the one who sacrifices life, lives. The road to glory is servanthood. That was true for Jesus, and it is true for all who would follow him. “Preachers should preach regularly on the apparent failure the Gospel invites to, ending in death. A message of ‘success’ has to contain large elements of a siren song of ‘this world’…. In John, cross and crown are one” (Sloyan, 156). Like Jesus, we are expected to be faithful even unto death and to trust God for vindication. “If Jesus’ willingness extends to the point of death, his ‘deacons’ must follow him there. It is a hard place to go…, but if (this step) is taken, it is rewarded with a great gift: ‘honor’ from the Father” (Howard-Brook, 281).
Pope John Paul II said something very beautiful about this divine paradox:
Christian logic is really ‘original.’ Nobody can consider himself safe except when he risks all for the Lord; neither always can he consider himself saved if, in turn, he does not make himself an instrument of salvation, since spiritual gift grow when they are shared” (L’osservatore Romano, June 1991).
The Church in her Catechism (CCC 1816) teaches how to be productive Christian:
“The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.” Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
The imagery of the grain of wheat and the message it contains and wishes to deliver illustrates the life, teaching and the fate of Jesus and his disciples. Before his passion and death, Jesus is limited to his earthly ministry and he was met with opposition, hostility, rejection, and persecution not only of the Scribes and Pharisees in particular and the Jews in general but also of his relatives to the point that he was thought to be mad or out of his mind. But after the resurrection, his life gains a cosmic dimension. Many people repented, converted and began to believed him as their Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit is sent and the disciples are given knowledge of Jesus and his teachings. They are also inspired to spread and give witness to the Gospel to all peoples: Jews and pagans alike. Jesus by being faithful to saving mission entrusted to him by God the Father to the end has become a fruitful servant of God. Jesus in his life, death and resurrection, like a grain of wheat who was sown and died, lives and produces and abundant harvest.
The imagery of the grain of wheat also illustrates the life of Lawrence, a deacon and martyr of Rome. Tertullian, an irascible Carthaginian theologian around A.D. 200, writes: “We become many whenever you mow us down; the blood of Christians is seed” (Apology, 50). Simply said, the “Blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.” Martyrs like Lawrence, “are truly a luminous beacon for the Church and for humanity, for they have made Christ’s light shine in the darkness. They strove to serve Christ and His “Gospel of hope” faithfully, and by their martyrdom expressed their faith and love to a heroic degree, putting themselves generously at the service of their brethren” (Pope John Paul II, Message for eighth Public Meeting of the Pontifical Academies, November 3, 2003).
Christianity, like any other system of belief, thrives on commitment, and the commitment of martyrs is inspiration for the ages. As a Christians by virtue of our baptism and confirmation, we are anointed by the Holy Spirit as a prophet, priest and king. As a prophet, therefore, we should “be ready and willing to become a consistent witness even at the cost of suffering and great sacrifice. Because as a prophet, even in the most ordinary circumstances we are called to a sometimes heroic commitment” (see Veritatis Splendor, 93).
How can we be faithful and loyal prophets in the midst of this corrupt and depraved generation? When we consistently hold to what is right, true and beautiful and reject what is evil, denounce injustices, decry violence, condemned human rights violations, take care of our environment, protect human life and dignity and promote integral human development.
Not all of us are called to martyrdom in the real sense of the word. Not all of us are called to follow the footstep of Lawrence. But all of us are called to become consistent witnesses of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Every time we choose life over death its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose good over evil, its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose grace over sin, its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose truth over lies, its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose God over Satan its also bloodless martyrdom. Every time we choose heaven over hell its also bloodless martyrdom.
The countless thousands of Christian martyrs who have gone to their deaths for “the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine” (cf. CCC 2473) are the ultimate witnesses. Be counted among the chosen ones, therefore, and make your “consistent witnessing a seed of the Church and of Christianity, a “fragrant offering” (Eph 5:12), “holy, living and acceptable sacrifice to God” (see Rm 12:1).
The Philippines placed 26th among 81 countries surveyed in terms of financial systems standards but was still at the bottom half of the list in the business indicator index, a recent report of eStandards Forum of the U.S. Financial Standards Foundation showed.
Based on the forum’s 12 Key Standards for Sound Financial Systems, the country’s compliance level was scored at 52.50 reflecting medium overall compliance, which brings the Philippines to the 26th place of 81 countries reviewed.
The 12 Key Standards for Sound Financial System are: Macroeconomic Policy & Data Transparency, data dissemination, transparency monitoring policy, transparent fiscal policy; Institutional Market Infrastructure, insolvency, accounting corporate governance, auditing antimony laundering, payment
systems; Finance Regulation Supervision, banking supervision, securities regulation, insurance supervision.
The eStandards Forum, which also reviews the Business Indicator Index, also reflects the country’s political, economic and business model versus an ideal best-practice benchmark.
FROM THE HEART By Gina Lopez Updated March 08, 2009 12:00 AM
In the latter part of 2007, as La Mesa was winding down, my brother suggested that I take on the cleaning up of Pasig River. I thought he was nuts for suggesting what seemed to be an impossible task; I actually thought he was teasing.
But a few months later former First Lady Ming Ramos decided to close shop and turn over the Pasig River Project to Bantay Kalikasan — and then a few days later Sec. Lito Atienza agreed to let me co-manage the rehabilitation of the three waterways: Laguna Lake, the Pasig River and Manila Bay.
A year into the job and flush from a hugely successful press launch on Feb. 24, I am convinced it can be done. I had set a timetable of seven years. But the more I go into it, the more it looked like it could be accomplished in less time. Some readers must be thinking, What?
Let me first share with you my passion. Did you know that Tagalog comes from Taga-Ilog? Our ancestors were originally river dwellers. The river is intimately connected to our history and to our identity as a people. How can we resign ourselves to the fact that we are Taga-ilog — Taga-ilog na marumi? Some parts of the river are not only dead — they are toxic. I was horrified to visit the San Juan River and see whirlpools of methane gas there! The San Juan River is a recipient of the toxicity that comes from Quezon City, and it is at the mouth of the Pasig River.
I was shocked to see how the people live near the river banks. The river is literally their toilet bowl. Under the Mindanao Avenue Bridge, there are 52 families living without windows, inhaling all those toxic fumes. The other week, one baby fell into the river and drowned!
How did we ever come to this?
In the same vein, I have heard stories of how pristine the river once was — and this was not so long ago. I myself can remember water-skiing across Manila Bay when I was in my teens. This is not something I would even momentarily consider now.
It is very clear to me that the cleaning of the Pasig River and all its tributaries is not only a physical exercise; it will have tremendous impact on our psyche. Just last Sunday when we launched the Kapit Bisig sa Ilog Pasig on ASAP, when the stars were singing songs of paradise and hope, I felt a stirring within me.
And since then I have gotten texts and e-mails on the project. The cleaning of the river definitely strikes a chord in our collective psyche.
So, how is it going to be done? The first order of the day is to relocate the illegal settlers. As long as there are people living along the river banks — with the river as their toilet — no cleaning will be possible. I am fortunate to have a very strong partner in the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission headed by Jun Tablan. He is dynamic — a real doer. Under his leadership we have, over the past month, already relocated more than 100 informal settlers and will resettle a little over 300 by the end of March. Jun says this is not even his job description but he is helping to do it anyway.
Where are we going to put the rest? NHA, under the leadership of Rico Laxa, is entrusted with the project management of the Calauan Resettlement Site, which can hold between 8,000 to 10,000 families. That is enough to make a huge difference. Globe Asiatique’s Delfin Lee has generously agreed to finish the existing 800 houses on the site as well as build better houses for the 168 families already there. site. Delfin has even agreed to fix up the existing elementary school building. When he offered to also fix up the sports field, I teasingly said I would put up a statue of him onsite. Teasing aside, Delfin has been really great! His efforts ensure that by June we will have moved 1,100 illegal settlers — and cleared up a sizeable portion of the riverbanks. Aside from livelihood, the game plan is to put up a really good school there — similar to the Xevera School of Globe Asiatique where our children are winning regional awards. A good school, livelihood, fresh air, and good management — I doubt that they will go back to the subhuman conditions they were experiencing in Metro Manila.
So now I need to find the funds to resettle the rest. There are exciting possibilities offered by the MMDA and certain congressmen, so I continue to be upbeat. But I do need help from the private sector.
Why else am I so upbeat? I have great partners! Manila Water and Maynilad have been tremendous. I had a very successful working relationship with these two companies for La Mesa and the relationship continues to bear fruit for the Pasig River.
I also have great LGU partners. Mayor Sonny Belmonte has already given P2 million for a solid waste management program. Mayor Jejomar Binay has said that he is with me all the way. The other mayors have also been wonderfully cooperative. Mayor Fred Lim and Col. Carlos Baltazar of Manila have been great in clearing up Estero de Paco after the informal settlers left, and MMDA was great in having their cranes speed up the job. The cooperation of the mayors is crucial. They need to make sure the law is implemented — that none of their residents continue to toxify the river. Ed Manda of the Laguna Lake Development Authority is also a great partner — and has committed to make sure that the factories along the river will not be allowed to dump toxic water into the river.
What continues to infuse me with optimism is the existing technology. I love scientists! The DOST has come up with great machines that can turn plastic and Styrofoam into chairs, tables, bricks — the possibilities are many and promise not only functional value but revenue possibilities. This means that instead of ending up in the waterways, the trash will be recycled and render service to the community.
Egay Maranan, a presidential awardee for Science and Technology, has had great results with his bioremediation technology: a 99 percent reduction in coliform — from 18,666,000 to 160,000 parts — in one month! Of course the allowable level is 5,000, but his success offers much promise.
Dinky Hermentera of Plantex has technology that can bioremediate at the source — this means microorganisms, fungi, green plants and their enzymes can be used to return natural environments altered by contaminants back to their original condition. She came to my home to demonstrate, placing organic materials in my septic tank. Before the input, the COD (chemical oxygen demand) was 4,789. In five days, it went down to 100! Class C is 70 COD, which could easily have been reached had she put a little more of her material in. With this technology, we can attain Class C liquids coming out of our septic tanks. It would be a great stopgap measure until we get central sewage treatment facilities.
I love the technologies above because they are effective, they are inexpensive and they are Filipino!
Oh, I could go on and on about the technologies that are cropping up that show promise. And the scientists keep saying seven years? We could do it in less!
The role of media is key. This was the missing link in previous efforts. Even if billions are spent on engineering and cleaning the river, it is going to stay dirty unless we change our mindsets. The river is not our toilet bowl! It’s our life. It’s God’s gift to us. The shifting of consciousness, the touching of hearts, the ability to inspire and tell the story — that’s the role that media plays. The Philippine STAR has committed itself to the cause. How can we not make a difference?
Kapit Bisig Sa Ilog Pasig is an apt name for the movement. There is no way we can clean this river if we don’t work together.
Last December, I was at a retreat and the river kept coming up in my meditation. One “message” that repeatedly came to me was that the cleaning of the Pasig River was all about hope. It is hope that is the receptacle of divine help. It’s when people have lost hope — when there is cynicism — that our angels have no one to give to.
When we manifest our positive hearts and spirits in the way we work, the heavens can help. By showing people these miracles — the things being done to improve the river — I believe there will be a snowball effect. Once people start to believe, once they start to see the possibilities — then the greatest heights can be reached.
Kapit Bisig Sa Ilog Pasig needs all the help it can get. Let me end by sharing with you a beautiful quote by one of the staff of Bantay Kalikasan:
Once, there was Pasig River…
Let this no longer be a story of how the once-glorious river lost its wonder but how sincere, untiring commitment and well-meaning, strong partnerships brought it back to life.
Be part of the story. Let’s give our children a future they can believe in.
* * *
I can be reached at email@example.com.
For volunteer information/inquiries please e-mail Girlie Aragon, project manager of the Pasig campaign, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For direct donations, you may deposit at Banco de Oro, Scout Albano Branch, account number 393-0078222.
You may also donate through text by typing GIVE [space] ILOG then send to 231 for Smart and Talk & Text or 2366 for Globe, Touch Mobile, and Sun Cellular. Every time you text, you’re giving life to the Pasig River.
MANILA, Philippines—North Cotabato’s provincial board on Tuesday asked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to reject the idea of inviting former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as an adviser in the Mindanao peace talks.
The conflict in the South is a purely internal issue that can be solved through dialogue among the stakeholders, said Vice Gov. Emmanuel F. Piñol in a statement.
Following a speech from Piñol, titled “Thank You, Mr. Tony Blair, But No Thanks!” the provincial board Tuesday passed a resolution asking the President to drop the idea of involving foreign intervenors in the peace process.
The government panel negotiating a peace agreement with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front earlier suggested that an eminent persons group be created to advise the peace process, to include Blair and former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The suggestion was taken up by Malacañang which issued a statement the other day, following a meeting between the President and the visiting Blair, saying that Blair’s “charisma and charm that brought peace to Northern Ireland may be needed to put an end to the conflict in the Southern Philippines.”
“The statement that Blair’s charm and charisma could end the trouble in the South is a perfect example of the jaundiced perspective of our policy makers and peace negotiators of the true cause and root of the problem in Mindanao and the solutions that could bring an end to the conflict,” said a resolution from the 14-man provincial board.
“Signing a peace agreement with the MILF will not end the problem but addressing the roots of the problem that led to the birth of groups like the MNLF and the MILF will bring us true and lasting peace,” it said.
Piñol said the conflict in the South is a result of “deep-seated biases and prejudices between Christians and Muslims which can be healed through education, the failure of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to function, massive corruption in the region, absence of justice and the failure of government to address poverty, deprivation, the lack of opportunities and hopelessness.”
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. meanwhile said he did not believe Blair, who is now a Middle East peace envoy, would be of much help as the Mindanao conflict was not his field of expertise.
He said Blair should think twice about “coming into the picture” as he noted that the latter’s knowledge of the Mindanao conflict was “peripheral.”
He said Blair would be “overstretching” himself if he agrees to help mediate the Mindanao peace talks. With Christine Avendaño
* Vets in RP to get $ 9,000; those in the US, $ 15,000
* Last day for filing claims is Feb. 16, 2010
* These benefits, totaling $ 197 million, fall under the $787 billion package under the American Recovery and Stimulus Act which US President Barack Obama signed last February.
Qualified Filipino war veterans are set to receive lump-sum benefits of $9,000 and $15,000 each from the United States government by late April or the first week of May, United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney said yesterday.
The lady ambassador said the checks for the lump-sum payment are due for distribution to qualified veterans in the next two months.
Kenney noted that the US embassy has received 23,000 claims from Filipino veterans which she said it is now being processed.
“We’re hoping that the first batches that we’ve gotten (will be paid) by the end of April or early May. But this is a rolling process, some people applied Day 1; there are probably people applying today,” she said during the launching of the Kraft-Save The Children partnership yesterday.
The veterans’ benefits totaling $197 million were included in the $787 billion package under the American Recovery and Stimulus Act which US President Barack Obama signed last February.
Entitled to the benefits are qualified Filipino veterans based in US and in the Philippines. Those in the US will get $15,000 each while those still in the Philippines will get $9,000 each.
“Everyone who files for claims will get a written response, letting them know their claim was either accepted or not, depending on the different criteria. No one needs to wonder. We hope by the end of April to send those letters out for applications we’ve already received,” Kenney said.
She said Filipino veterans may file their claims until February 16, 2010 to avail themselves of the lump-sum benefits. She said in case the veteran dies during the time he applied and during the approval of his claim, his family will get the payment.
“Please help us get it out there that they have 11 more months to do so (file application for benefits),” she said.
MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang on Tuesday criticized as “unfair” a report from a New York-based media watchdog listing the Philippines as among the world’s most dangerous places for journalists due to many unresolved murders since 1998.
At least 24 killings of Filipino journalists have remained unresolved since 1998, said the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ called on the government to prosecute and punish those behind the murders.
In its latest “Impunity Index” report, the CPJ ranked the Philippines No. 6 in a list of 14 countries with high numbers of unresolved killings of journalists against the size of the population.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said it was not true the government had ignored these killings in the country, saying 26 of 31 cases were now either being tried in lower courts or under prosecutors’ review.
“We view with discomfort the manner the Philippines is once again put in a bad light on its commitment on the promotion and protection of human rights,” Ermita told reporters.
“The allegation by the CPJ is an unfair depiction of what is happening based on measures that are inadequate. These incidents have all been properly attended to.”
No quick convictions
The retired military general said at least four people had been convicted and 26 others were facing charges for the murder of at least 31 Filipino journalists since 2001.
“The low conviction rate has been misconstrued as a slack in the country’s justice system. This is a misconception because we always conform to the rule of law. The government will not force quick convictions simply for the sake of announcing achievements,” Ermita said.
The CPJ said it was standing firm on its “impunity index” because the data-based report “belies the claim of an exaggeration.”
RP peacetime democracy
“What is striking is that the Philippines is one of the only countries in the top half of this list that is a stable and a peacetime democracy,” the CPJ said.
Iraq, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sri Lanka remained at the top of the list, but these states are virtually in a state of war, the CPJ added.
Local media groups said about 78 to 100 of more than 130 journalists killed since 1986 died while doing their job. Only five of those cases led to the conviction of gunmen—but not to any alleged mastermind.
In a statement Tuesday, a mission from the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) that visited the country on March 21-24 expressed fears that the killings of media people in the Philippines could spread to other countries in the region.
“We believe that the culture of impunity that is deeply rooted in the Philippines could be replicated in other countries in the region unless there is a common effort to dismantle it in the Philippines,” the group said.
SEAPA noted an increase in violence against journalists and media workers in Malaysia and Thailand last year. This includes harassment, mob attacks on journalists and media premises, killings and legal sanctions to suppress free expression.
The alliance also feared an escalation of the killings of media people in the Philippines as the 2010 election nears.
SEAPA called on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo “to take the steps necessary to prevent that unfortunate development.” With reports from Alcuin Papa and Reuters
JOLO, Sulu – The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) broke its commitment on a deal to free one of the three Red Cross workers they kidnapped here once the military force repositions its troops surrounding their hideout in Indanan, Sulu.
Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, said the bandits promised him to release one of the three hostages if security forces surrounding their jungle lair in the town of Indanan would pull out.
Troops have repositioned away from the ASG lair on Thursday, but the group also demanded for the pull out of the armed village guards helping the military in the rescue operation.
Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino woman Mary Jean Lacaba are still being held hostage by the ASG. The trio were kidnapped on January 15 after inspecting a water and sanitation project at a prison compound in Patikul, Sulu.
Three soldiers had been killed and 19 more wounded in fierce clashes earlier this week after the bandits attempted to break through the military cordon.
Military officials were getting impatient over Gordon’s frequent calls to withdraw soldiers from the town to allow negotiations with the hostage takers. The Abu Sayyaf has threatened to behead one of its hostages if the soldiers get near them or if fighting breaks out again.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) does not regret repositioning its troops in Sulu even if the ASG did not fulfill its promise of releasing one its hostages in exchange for the pull out of soldiers, a military official said Sunday.
Brigadier General Gaudencio Pangilinan, military spokesman of the International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) Crisis, said the safety of three Red Cross staffers is on the mind of its top brass when the decision to slacken the military cordon was made. “Ano ba naman ‘yung umtaras tayo ng konti para sa safety ng hostages,” said Pangilinan in a phone interview.
On Thursday, Marine commandos manning the military cordon against the ASG were repositioned following the request of Gordon for a pullback after bandit leader Albader Parad allegedly promised to release one of their ICRC hostages in exchange for loosening the cordon.
The pullback of troops was agreed upon during the meeting of top police, military and government officials in Camp Crame following the threats made by Parad that he would behead one of the hostages after the series of clashes that started on Monday that resulted in his wounding.
Amid the gradual pullback, the ASG did not release one of the ICRC hostages, with recent reports stating that it was because government troops are continuously closing in on them. (with a report from Aaron Recuenco)