Think Sky – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Acts 11:1-18, John 10:11-18, Monday of the Fourth Week of Eastertide

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When we went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, there was a Saturday, a Sabbath, when we were out visiting places. I forget now where we were exactly but the tour guide warned us not to make the mistake of venturing into a particular part of the site. He was pointing to an enclave of very conservative Jews who didn’t want to have anything to do with Gentiles like us. They were known to throw rocks at wayward tourists, especially during Sabbath. This is the 21st century, dear sisters and brothers, but there are still Jews living in the mindset of Deuteronomy and Leviticus – eighth & sixth centuries respectively, BC. Can you imagine?

But we shouldn’t talk so loudly because even 21st century Catholics could also be caught in a time warp ourselves. Do you know, for example, that Fr Manoling’s song, Christify, is banned in the diocese of Novaliches? The guy in charge of liturgical music there says there’s no such word as Christify in the Bible or in any Roman-Catholic liturgical book. He has also banned many Jesuit-composed songs from their parishes because Jesuits don’t follow the rules of writing “sacred music” as taught in Rome. Like, when you have the words, “Glory,” or “God,” or “Jesus,” or “Hosanna”, or “Holy,” the notes should “go up”, according to the rules, like “notes going up to God” and all that c-r-a-p. I can go on but I think you get the point, right? It’s not only orthodox Jews who live in an era before Christ. There are many of us who think we’re being Catholic, when we’re really being more “Roman” than catholic, in the real sense of the word “catholic” as meaning “universal,” “open,” “broadminded,” “big-hearted,” I mean, “all-are-welcome-because-Jesus-welcomes-all” catholic.

This is why what happened in today’s first reading could be likened to a Copernican Revolution in our history as Christians. For the first and very shocking time, Peter, leader of the community, relaxes the Jewish restrictions on diet, on uncircumcised men, and most of all, on the Gentiles — he declared that people didn’t have to avoid non-kosher food, or be circumcised, or be a Jew in order to be saved by Christ. “The Holy Spirit told me to accompany these people without discriminating,” Peter said of the non-Jews. That’s like finally calling out the Gentile elephant in the middle of a very Jewish room! All this happened after Peter baptized the first Gentile, a Roman centurion named Cornelius, and got flak for it, from the very people who were already believers in Christ—so Peter’s own brothers in community, fellow disciples!

My dear sisters and brothers, I try to always tell my students that one of the surest signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence is when our loving becomes broad and high and deep and wide — like the love of God is broad, high, deep, wide. Spirit’s movement always broadens, heightens, deepens, and widens. So that when there is narrow-mindedness, especially in religion, when there is inflexibility, exclusivity, protective-ism, discrimination, us-versus-them, us-better-than-them, God-with-us-not-with-them—that is not the work of the Holy Spirit, because Jesus was never such a man. Whose work is that? Own egos probably, or the collective egos of catholics who are more “Roman” than Catholic. But it’s not the Spirit.

Tsk, mabait naman kasi ang Dios eh. Malawak. Kaya nga “Dios” ang tawag, kasi ang salitang deus ay galing sa mas luma pang Latin, “dey-wos”, “kalangitan,” – sky, heavens. Kalawakan! Kaya ang kilos ng Dios ay laging palawak, pabukas, palalim. There’s always room in the heart of God. At‘yang Dey-wos na ‘yan, punung-puno ‘yan ng biyaya. Hindi kuripot sa biyaya ang Dios—kahit na hindi ka Katoliko may “extra rice” ka! Ang Dios laging may pa-extra-rice, pramis! Kahit di mo kainin, iyong iyo na ‘yan, isangag mo sa bawang pambreakfast bukas! Hirap kasi, karamihan sa aming mga pari, sobrang over-protective kay Jesus. I always tell my students, “Please stop protecting Jesus from people who need him the most. He doesn’t need bodyguards. He doesn’t need centurions.” And apropos to today’s Gospel, Jesus is the good shepherd, so he’s the bodyguard. The last thing God needs, sisters and brothers, is to be over-protected by “centurions” who are more Roman than catholic.

“I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” I don’t know how much clearer Jesus could express himself than that way. And you know what, he was not talking about being “Roman Catholic,” least of all, being a centurion. He was talking about being catholic, that is to say: universal, the whole, the broad and high, the deep and wide. Think sky, think heaven, when you think God.

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