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Practical Miracles

Sometimes, I half hope for miracles. Oh, not the grand and serious ones certainly, like for healing or for conversion. (Those I pray for constantly and devoutly.)  I mean practical miracles – like someone doing my work for me while I go do something else.

There’s that story of St. Isidore the Laborer that reminds me a lot of a fairy tale. According to the story, St. Isidore often reported for work late because he wanted to attend Mass. However, his productivity was never compromised, as angels would do the plowing for him while he was gone. The fairy tale is of the elves and the shoemaker. The shoemaker would go to sleep leaving some leather to work on in the morning. And when he was in bed, elves would work on his leather.

I have a small statue of a sleeping St. Joseph on my desk. I put it on top of paperwork that I need special help on. But when I return the next day, the test papers still remain unchecked, the memos remain unwritten and the pile is as high as it was when I left it. Maybe, it’s the St. Joseph the Worker statue that I should be putting there. I say all of these in jest, of course. And also in exhaustion.

Because work is tiring. It can be beautiful, and meaningful, and joyful. It can be all of that and still it can be tiring. But that is the very nature of work. In fact, the mathematical formula for work is force multiplied by distance. Force, therefore effort, must be exerted. There’s no easy way around it. We can get machines to make our jobs easier but we still need to put in the time and effort.

I wonder why God designed our bodies to get tired. Couldn’t we just not have needed sleep at all? Wouldn’t we be more productive if we could work 24/7? God certainly could have made it that way, couldn’t He? I suppose the answer is yes, if He were a factory owner.

If production were the only thing God ever wanted, I’m sure He could have designed us that way. But He didn’t. In His infinite wisdom, He designed our bodies to get tired after exerting effort for a specific amount of time. And He designed it so that we would actually have to do things for ourselves if we wanted to get the job done.  In other words, He designed us so that we would both seek the fulfillment of work and long for the enjoyment of rest.

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The Bible tells us that even God rested on the seventh day. And Jesus himself would go off by himself to pray and presumably to rest. As we settle into the heart of the season of Lent, we remind ourselves that we too must make time to withdraw from the world, to step back from the workaday stresses that sometimes threaten to consume us so that we can find rest and strength in the Lord.

And perhaps we will find that the true purpose of work isn’t so much in what we accomplish but in who we become. And maybe becoming more and more like Christ is the most “practical miracle” we can ever hope for.

Stay for Hope

By booking a room at Marco Polo Plaza with the room package “Stay for Hope,” anyone can support the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF).

At a special rate, “Stay for Hope” includes an overnight accommodation at a Deluxe Mountain View Room, buffet breakfast for two and a Pag-Asa Philippine Eagle stuffed toy. If a family is staying on a weekend, the kids get free access to the Piccolo Kids Club playroom plus other surprises.

In 2015, Marco Polo Plaza pledged its support to the Philippine Eagle Foundation through the project Adopt Pag-asa. Pag-asa (“Hope”) is a Philippine Eagle stuffed toy available at the front desk and Lobby Shop of the hotel and could be ‘adopted’ for P600, 100 percent of the proceeds goes to the PEF.

The Philippine Eagle is the country’s national bird, it is also one of the largest eagles in the world and a global symbol for biodiversity in the rainforest. Unfortunately, due to the massive loss of habitat caused by deforestation, the Philippine Eagle has today become one of the world’s rarest and most critically endangered species.

Those that book through “Stay for Hope” or adopt a Pag-Asa stuffed toy also help fund PEF’s efforts towards the protection of the Philippine Eagle through conservation breeding and by working with local communities.

The “Stay for Hope” room package is available until December 2017, other terms and conditions apply. For more information, one may call (032) 253-1111 or email mpplaza@marcopolohotels.com. The website is at www.marcopoloplazahotels.com. The social media accounts are at facebook.com/marcopolocebu , @5StarInCebu on Twitter and @marcopolocebu on Instagram.

Bible Reading for the Third Sunday of Lent: John 4:5-42

Living Water

We’re now on the third Sunday of Lent, and what do we find? A conversation between Jesus and a woman with five husbands, a juicy exposé for our scandal sheets – “Tsismis Tonight.”

John’s Gospel tells us “The [disciples] marveled that he was talking with a woman.”  But what has this got to do with Lent?

We have much to learn from today’s liturgy – much to learn not only about Lent, but also about Jesus, and about ourselves. First, what is Lent all about? For some Christians, it means you turn sad for 40 days from ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday to the anguished cry of Christ on the cross on Good Friday.

Lent is a depressing season. You get all the joy out of your system – no movies, no sweets, no parties, no fun from Ash Wednesday and back to joy only on Easter Sunday. For liturgy and for living, this is nonsense.

The First Preface for Lent proclaims “this joyful season.” We dare not divide the paschal mystery into a season of dying in Lent, and a season of rising in Easter. Indeed there was a chronological sequence to the events in Jesus’ life. But to stress the history is to miss the mystery.

Jesus Christ has risen, even in Lent.  We may not pretend he has not. Lent is our increasingly intense initiation into the whole paschal mystery and that is the mystery of dying/rising:  his and ours.

One mystery:  life in and through death. Each Sunday Gospel of this Lent plays on that theme, but with different images.

First Sunday of Lent: the desert. The biblical desert was both a “terrible wilderness,” where death was ever a threat, and the place where the people of God were born. It was the place of testing and suffering, but also of discovery and covenant, of intimacy and love, and new life.

“I will allure her,” the Lord said of Israel, “and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:16) Here a hungry Jesus told the tempter what makes for life: “Not by bread alone… but every word that God speaks.”

Last Sunday, the Second Sunday of Lent: the Transfiguration. On the journey of death, Jesus is revealed as the man of life. On the journey to death, the disciples glimpse his glory. But they miss the death/life duality.

[Not on this mountain, Peter, do not set up your condo – not till you’ve mounted the hill of Calvary.]

Next Sunday: darkness and light – the man born blind. Hopelessly sightless, sight is given him. The second reading, from Paul to the Ephesians, will express the miracle’s deeper meaning: “Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”

The Fifth Sunday: Lazarus “dead four days” called from death’s cave. Here you have dying/rising in its supreme paradox, the promise of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall never die.”

So too the Sixth Sunday, Passion/Palm Sunday. Not palm or passion, but both. Not triumph or tragedy, but triumph in tragedy. Not dying or rising Christ, but a dying/rising Christ. Life leaps from death.

This brings us to the Second Point – Today’s Gospel. How does the Samaritan woman fit into Lent, into dying/rising?  As on the other Sundays, so here: an image, a striking image, for the life that comes through death.

When the woman wonders aloud how a Jew can ask a Samaritan for water, Jesus responds: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

But what is the meaning of the image? What is this “living water,” water that quenches your thirst forever, that becomes in you “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

In John’s theology, two great ideas come together: living water as symbol for God’s life-giving wisdom has rich biblical roots. In this context Jesus can well call his own revelation “living water,” for in John, Jesus is Divine Wisdom in the flesh and he replaces the law.

And if you would see living water as the Spirit Jesus gives us, recall his impassioned outburst to the people: “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now this [John adds] he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive.”

In short, living water is at once the life-giving word of Jesus and the Spirit of truth, who interprets the word Jesus speaks. This is what Jesus calls “the gift of God.” Now this story of living water is a drama about faith: John dramatizes how an individual and a community come to believe in Jesus.

As always, the Lord takes the initiative. He speaks, and a woman begins to sip living water –without knowing it. In the power of the Spirit, she is hearing God’s word – without knowing it. Not yet does she know who Jesus is. She knows only that “the Messiah is coming.” – for her, the prophet-like-Moses promised of old.

Jesus asserts flatly: “I who speak to you am He.” He even uses of himself the venerable title of divinity: “I am.” Still not sure of who Jesus is, the woman rush from the well to the city, crying breathlessly to all she meets: “Come, see a man, who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

Not certainty, but a touch of hope. And the drama of belief expands. Someone who knows everything this much-married woman ever did. The citizens of Sychar hasten to the well to see this prodigy for themselves.  Seeing, they ask him “to stay with them”; he stays “two days.”  Many of the Samaritans have already believed in him on the woman’s witness; “many more” believed “because of his word.

The Third Point:  What does Lent’s Samaritan woman say to us? We see two responses. First, it is not only the Samaritan woman, who should recognize Jesus and ask him for living water – but  every man and woman must; you and I must.

Yes, you have already tasted it; otherwise you would not be here. You have been touched by God’s word, and the Holy Spirit lives in you. Well then, what more?  Well, a lot more.

Most of us have only sipped God’s living water; few thirst for it the way they thirst for Coke, Pepsi, or C2. For Lent, try this one-question quiz:  What are you thirsty for?

If you can trust a survey in Psychology Today magazine, a central passion between 18 and 25 years old is money. But if it’s not money that turns you on, what does?

Does our Christian sense protest when the Son of God, in history’s most amazing act of love, is nailed to a bloody cross for us and we are so bored that we play Ma-jong on Good Friday or spend a weekend at the beach?

Somehow the Christ, who had such an impact on the woman at the well must grab us, turn us on. It’s not just a matter of textbook knowledge. You must know him, not only about him – to be his disciple. I mean the knowledge that is love – the kind of love you experience when you want to surrender all else in wild abandonment. The type of love that links two persons – where your whole being, flesh and spirit, thrills to the presence of the other.

If this has not been your drink, spend the rest of Lent asking for it. “If you knew that the gift of God… you would have asked him [Jesus], and he would have given you living water.”

A Second Suggestion.  The Samaritan woman did not hide her living water in some private, do-not-touch water jar. She “left her water jar,” dashed back to the city, grabbed everyone she meets: “Come and see this amazing man! Could be he’s the prophet we’ve been waiting for.”

The consequence?  The Gospel is clear: “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” She became an apostle. She brought the message of Jesus to the people she knew; she shared with them her own experience of him; she urged them to go see for themselves.  They went; they brought him back with them; they spent two days in his company; they heard the word from his very lips; and many believed – because of her.

And so for you – apostles you must be. My dear friends, when you ask for living water, you are taking a giant risk. It’s not just giving up a Coke, or a movie, or ice cream for Lent; you’re asking God to change you, to transform you in the image of His Christ.

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